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Full text of "Ancient eugenics, the Arnold prize essay for 1913"

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ANCIENT EUGENICS 



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XonDon 

HUMPHREY MILFORD 

OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, AMEN CORNER, E.G. 
NEW YORK, TORONTO, MELBOURNE AND BOMBAY 






ANCIENT EUGENICS 



THE ARNOLD PRIZE ESSAY FOR 1913 



BY 

ALLEN G. ROPER, B.A. 

LATE SCHOLAR OF KEBLK COLLBGE 



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ANCIENT EUGENICS 



The preface to a history of Eugenics may be com- 
piled from barbarism, for the first Eugenist was 
not the Spartan legislator, but the primitive savage 
who killed his sickly child. The cosmic process was 
checked and superseded by another as ruthless as 
Nature's own method of elimination. The lower 
the community, the more rapidly it reproduces 
itself. There is an extravagant production of raw 
material, and the way of Nature, " red in tooth and 
claw,*' is the ruthless rejection of all that is super- 
fluous. When there is no differential birth-rate, the 
result of foresight and self-control, and the attain- 
ment of a higher level of civilization, Nature adjusts 
the balance by means of a differential death-rate. 
In the days when human or animal foe threatened 
on every side, when " force and fraud were the two 
cardinal virtues,** and the life of man was " solitary, 
poor, nasty, brutish, and short,** natural selection 
must have been ruthless and severe. Some concep- 
tion of the wasteful processes of Nature dawned 
upon the savage mind. While they lived their short 
lives, the weakly, the deformed, and the superfluous 
were a burden to the tribe. Human law, super- 
seding natural law, strove to eliminate them at 



Ancient Eugenics 

birth. This was the atavistic basis on which subse- 
quent Eugenics was built. 

In Greece, the theory underwent a logical develop- 
ment. Even in a later age of dawning civilization, 
war confronted men with this same problem of the 
ruthless extermination of the unfit. It was recog- 
nized that the occurrence of the non-viable child 
was inevitable, but remedial legislation, reaching a 
step further back, essayed by anticipation to reduce 
this waste of life to a minimum. It was realized 
that to increase the productivity of the best stock 
is a more important measure than to repress the 
productivity of the worst. Out of the Negative 
aspect of Eugenics develops the Positive. 

With the advance of civilization, conditions be- 
come increasingly stable : war is still imminent, 
but, instead of being an essential element of exist- 
ence, it is regarded as a necessary evil. Nature, 
forging additional weapons, hastens the elimination 
of the unfit by disease. Some form of Eugenics is 
still necessary, but in the altered conditions a new 
ideal is born. The conception of a race of warriors 
merges into the ideal of a state of healthy citizens. 
All these formulations of Eugenics are aristocratic 
and parochial; they are to benefit the people of a 
single state, and only a section within that state. 
Any wider conception of racial regeneration was 
impossible to a people who dichotomized the state 
into free citizens and living instruments, the world 
into Greeks and barbarians. 

The breakdown of the city states brought a cosmo- 



Ancient Eugenics 

politanism which, instead of widening the ideal of 
humanity, centred itself on the interests of the indi- 
vidual. Modern Eugenics is based on Evolution — 
not a passive form, but one that concedes some 
latitude to the guiding action of the human wiU.^ 
Without some such postulate, egotism becomes a 
rational creed amid the social welter and world- 
weariness of a deliquescent civilization. Man is cut 
off sharply and definitely from all that went before 
and all that follows. Only the isolated ego remains, 
" a sort of complementary Nirvana,'* and the philo- 
sophy of " Ichsucht,'* of self-centred individualism, 
ends in Hedonism or ascetic alienation from an 
inexplicable universe. No scheme of social reform 
can bear fruit in such an atmosphere of philosophic 
negation. Like Plato's philosopher, man shelters 
from the tempest behind the wall. 

Three conceptions of the cosmic process are pos- 
sible. We may maintain that there is no such thing 
as progress, that life is a mere pointless reiteration 
of age after age till there comes the predestined 
cataclysm; we may believe in a primeval age of 
innocence and happiness, a golden age, or a state of 
nature diaUement ideal ; finally, we may trust in the 
gradual evolution of mankind towards a terrestrial 
Paradise, hoping that " on our heels a fresh perfec- 
tion treads, a power more strong in beauty, born of 
us, and fated to excel us as we pass in glory that old 
darkness." 

This conception of man as heir of all the ages, 

1 Galton, " Essays in Eugenics," p. 68. 
3 



Ancient Eugenics 

though vaguely anticipated by Anaximander, was 
impossible to an age which knew nothing of biology. 
No system of Eugenics is likely to flourish side by 
side with the belief in an unprogressive or degenerate 
humanity, steadily and inevitably declining from 
primordial perfection. So long as the city state 
survived, patriotism prevailed over pessimism, and 
ideals of regeneration were more than the idle dreams 
of the philosopher. But the growing prominence 
assigned to the theoretic life shows the gradual 
growth of despair. After Aristotle, Eugenics takes 
its place among the forgotten ideals of the 
past. 

But a thought or a theory which has once quick- 
ened into life becomes immortal. It may change 
its form, but it never perishes. Throughout time 
it is ceaselessly renewing its existence. While in- 
fanticide is everywhere disappearing, there remain 
still the principles simultaneously developed. Three 
centuries ago Eugenics was the Utopian dream of an 
imprisoned monk. A century later Steele, more in 
jest than in earnest, suggested that one might wear 
any passion out of a family by culture, as skilful 
gardeners blot a colour out of a tulip that hurts its 
beauty.^ But neither science nor public opinion 
was ready to respond. It was not till late in the 
nineteenth century that the crude human breeding 
of the Spartans, in altered form and in new condi- 
tions, became the scientific stirpiculture of Gal ton. 

1 Tatler, vol. ii.. No. 175, 1709; quoted by Havelock Ellis, 
*' Social Hygiene." 

4 



Ancient Eugenics 

To read the small minuscule of Ancient Eugenics, 
it is expedient first to scan the uncials of modern 
theory. Beneath the new form engendered by 
altered conditions, with the unessential and acci- 
dental passing away into other combinations, there 
remains an essential identity of form. History can 
only be an attempted interpretation of earlier ages 
by the modes of thought current in our own. The 
foreground of human life we can see with exactness, 
but the past is foreshortened by the atmosphere of 
time. 

Under the modern conditions of civilization, 
elimination by international or individual violence 
is steadily decreasing. Nature has found an equally 
effective weapon in the process of urbanization. 
Disease spreads rapidly amid conditions inimical in 
the highest degree to healthy living. But while 
infanticide forms the basis on which the ancient 
system was built, the abolition of that practice has 
been the starting-point for the New Eugenics. It 
has confronted us with problems unknown to a pre- 
Christian age. 

The Ancients attempted to combat the wasteful 
processes of Nature by eliminating the non-viable 
at birth; our efforts, on the contrary, have been 
directed to the prolongation of their lives. Instead 
of sacrificing the unfit in the interests of the fit, we 
have employed every resource of modern science 
" to keep alight the feeble flame of life in the base- 
bom child of a degenerate parent." ^ 

* Tredgold, " Eugenics and Future Progress of Man." 
5 



Ancient Eugenics 

The weapons forged by Nature have been taken 
from her hands. Side by side with the rapid multi- 
plication of the unfit there has been a marked decline 
in the birth-rate of the useful classes of the com- 
munity. The relatively strongest survive, but their 
strength has suffered from the influences which 
brought extinction to the weaker. This is one of 
the problems caused by a humaner sentiment. 

In the second place, the abolition of infanticide 
has confronted us with the necessity of knowledge. 
The methods of the breeder are ruthless and precise. 
He slaughters or he spares, and divergent variations 
are a matter of no moment. So the Spartans and 
Plato, with this analogy before them, were saved 
from the necessity of any deeper knowledge by the 
preventive check of infanticide. If Nature erred in 
her intentions, this art was at hand to rectify her 
mistakes. Infanticide saved the Greeks from the 
problems of heredity. 

For all practical purposes our knowledge is as 
infinitesimal as in the days of Plato. The methods 
of biometry and statistics, the actuarial side of 
heredity, deal merely with the characteristics of 
groups. Mendelism, dealing with the individual, 
finds verification in man only in the case of feeble- 
mindedness and in the inheritance of certain de- 
formities. Any constructive scheme of Eugenics is 
impossible under the limitations of our knowledge. 

Apart from the question of heredity, there is the 
problem of selection. Though physique is easily 
estimated, and correlated, perhaps, as Galton held, 

6 



Ancient Eugenics 

with other good qualities, the modern Eugenist has 
before him no simple homogeneous ideal. He has 
to recognize the psychical as well as the physical 
aspect of the intricate mosaic of human personality. 
The self-sacrificers and the self-tormentors claim 
their place no less than a Marcus Aurelius or an 
Adam Bede.^ Even though we hold it possible to 
compile a list of qualities for selection universally 
acceptable, we cannot, under the present limitations 
of our knowledge, prove personal value to be 
synonymous with reproductive value. No scheme 
of economic Eugenics, inferring the aptitudes of 
individuals from social position or income, can solve 
the hopeless perplexities that wait upon construc- 
tive methods. Passing from the municipality to 
the world. Eugenics is confronted by the conflicting 
ideals not only of alternative characters, but also of 
incompatible civilizations. Since differentiation is 
an indispensable factor in human progress, there 
arises the further problem of a Eugenic ethnology. 

This, then, is the shape modern theory has as- 
sumed in answer to the demands of modern civiliza- 
tion. Lost in Egotism, Eugenics found opposition 
no less formidable in a spirit of imprudent altruism. 
Only the scientific altruism of to-day has rendered 
it once more practicable. 

From its origin in the unreflective intuition of the 
atavistic past we will trace the growth of the theory 
till it passed into the pages of Aristotle, and became 

^ Galton, *' Essays in Eugenics," p. 36. 
7 



Ancient Eugenics 

lost to view amid the throes of a pessimistic and 
decadent age. 

Infanticide and Exposure, terms which in early 
ages were virtually synonymous, appear on first 
consideration to have been practised among un- 
civilized tribes for a bewildering multiplicity of 
reasons.^ There is the female infanticide of China 
and the Isles of the Southern Pacific, the male 
infanticide of the Abipones of Paraguay, and the 
indiscriminate massacre of the Gagas, who, killing 
every child alike, steal from a neighbouring tribe. 
There are the Indians who offer up children to 
Moloch or drown them in the Ganges; the Cartha- 
ginians sacrifice them to Kronos, the Mexicans to 
the rain god. There is the murder of twins and 
albinos in Arebo, and the cannibalism of the Abori- 
gines. In Mingrelia, *' when they have not the 
wherewithal to maintain them, they hold it a piece 
of charity to murder infants new born." There are 
the Biluchi, who kill all their natural children, and 
there is the modern factor of shame. 

Co-existing with all these various practices there 
is the definitely Eugenic motive. Among the 
Aborigines, all deformed children are killed as soon 
as born. The savages of Guiana kill any child that 
is "deformed, feeble, or bothersome." The Fans 
kill all sickly children. In Central America " it is 
suspected that infant murder is responsible for the 
rarity of the deformed." In Tonquin we hear of a 

1 McLennan, '* Studies in Ancient History," chap, vii., 
passim. 

8 



Ancient Eugenics 

law which forbids the exposing or strangling of 
children, be they ever so deformed. In Japan, 
deformed children were killed or reared according 
to the father's pleasure. Among the Prussians the 
aged and infirm, the sick and deformed, were un- 
hesitatingly put to death. 

The question arises, therefore, whether the Eu- 
genic motive first led to the institution of infanti- 
cide, or whether it was merely a by-product, a later 
growth, springing out of a practice which owed its 
inception to totally different causes. Setting aside 
infanticide when prompted by mere brutality or 
cannibalistic cravings, and excluding the modern 
factor of shame, which was unknown among primi- 
tive peoples, the motives may be classified as 
irrational or rational. 

Irrational motives are the religious or super- 
stitious, rational the Eugenic. Between these two 
there is a wide line of demarcation. 

The origin of religious infanticide is obscure. It 
may be merely evidence of fiendish passion. There 
may be in it something of a sacramental meal, or 
possibly the primal idea in its many variations is 
the gain of some benefit by the sacrifice of some- 
thing of value. In any case, whatever the basic 
intention, the religious motive in infanticide has no 
relation to the Eugenic. Such melancholy theology 
implies some degree of social organization, and was, 
therefore, a later and independent conception. 

Only some powerful and long-continued pressure 
could have brought about the reversal of sentiments 

9 



Ancient Eugenics 

which must have been innate in primitive man as 
much as in other animals. The impelling sources 
were two — ^want and war, or both in combination — 
not want in the form of famine, which, working its 
own cure, not infrequently leaves an increased 
prosperity behind it, nor war as brief and desolating 
in its effects as warfare of to-day, but rather that 
long-enduring warfare pressing on generation after 
generation, which is the State of Hostility. This 
was the normal state of early man, a condition of 
affairs inseparable from independent life in small 
communities. Jacob and Esau go their separate 
ways, form different habits and different languages. 
Estrangement follows inevitably. 

Even before man became his own worst enemy, 
brute creation must have furnished formidable foes 
to the naked and defenceless savage. There must 
have been pending want at this early stage of life. 
Under pressure of want, the group must adjust their 
numbers to the available food; under pressure of 
war, the same problem rises in still more urgent 
form. From these circumstances arises the practice 
of infanticide. It is circumstance, says Plato, and 
not man, which makes the laws.^ 

The nomadic group, passing from district to dis- 
trict in search of food, would find the children a 
burden. The first infanticides, casual rather than 
premeditated, were in the nature of a desertion. 
This preparing the way for an extension of the 
practice would lead to its adoption in the attempt 

^ "Laws," 709. 
10 



Ancient Eugenics 

to adjust numbers to the available food-supply. In 
the same way non-combatants would be regarded 
in the nature of impedimenta, since they consumed 
food without benefiting the group in return. 

The first system of infanticide is, therefore, a 
policy of despair. The first victims would probably 
be the deformed, the maimed, and the weaklings, 
and female infanticide would follow. The problem 
of the maintenance of the race arising would lead to 
male infanticide whenever there was a deficiency of 
women ; hence the custom, so far from being merely 
callous and brutal, and an argument for man's in- 
feriority to the beast, is a proof of the highest intelli- 
gence. 

These barbaric Eugenics, therefore, eliminating at 
birth those foredoomed to perish in the struggle 
for existence, were concerned with questions both 
of quantity and quality. Limitation of numbers, 
though it does not itself constitute " aggeneration " 
of the race, improves to a considerable degree the 
individuals of which the race is constituted. When 
the undesired children are out of the way, more 
attention can be paid to the desired. The savage 
bred recklessly, compensating his recklessness by 
infanticide, but a natural law of civilization has 
superseded the artificial law of primitive man. 
Control of reproduction, and resulting from it a 
falling birth-rate and a diminished death-rate, is a 
tendency which, first showing itself in Imperial 
Rome, is conspicuous to-day in every civilized 
community. 

II 



Ancient Eugenics 

Infanticide, sanctioned by long usage, passed into 
the law of civilized nations. It appears in the legis- 
lation of Solon,^ though the grounds for its adoption 
are uncertain, while at Rome it was ordained by the 
Twelve Tables for a definitely Eugenic motive. A 
child conspicuously deformed was to be immediately 
destroyed.^ But this limitation was frustrated by 
the control conceded to the father, which, restricted 
in Greece by aU legislators alike, was as arbitrary 
in Rome as in Gaul.^ 

So at Rome the Eugenic motive fades into the 
background, and abuses become so frequent that 
they have to be checked by further legislation. 
Romulus is said to have forbidden the murder of 
sons and first-born daughters,^ and the " Lex Gen- 
tiHcia " of the Fabii, who were in danger of extinc- 
tion, decreed that every child born must be 
reared. 

Under the Empire we find Seneca asserting once 
more the Eugenic justification of infanticide. " We 
drown the weakling and the monstrosity. It is not 
passion, but reason, to separate the useless from the 
fit."^ Two distinct tendencies appear, control of 

^ According to Sext. Empiricus (Pyrrhon., " Hypot.," 
iii. 24^, Solon conceded to the father the power of killing 
his children. Taken in conjunction with the limitation of 
the patria potestas, this appears improbable. According to 
Plutarch (Solon, xxii.), he sanctioned the exposure of 
natural children. 

2 " Insignis ad deformitatem " (Cic, " De Leg.," iii. 8). 

3 Cces., " De Bell. Gall.," vi. 19. 

* Dionysius, ii. 28. ^ " De Ira," i. 18. 

12 



Ancient Eugenics 

reproduction diminishing infanticide among the 
upper classes, exposure taking its place among the 
lower. 

The gloomy satirists of the Early Empire, instead 
of inveighing against the practice of exposure, abused 
the foresight which superseded it, and, so far from 
recognizing the tendency as one demanded in the 
altruistic interests of the race, saw in it merely 
egotistic subservience to the " captatores." The 
TroXvTratBia^ adXa of Gaius Julius or the jus trium 
liberorum of Augustus were futile attempts to 
combat an essential law of civilization. 

The lower classes, on the contrary, propagating 
recklessly amid extreme pauperism — for rapid multi- 
plication is the concomitant of bad environment — 
resorted to exposure, which is the antithesis of 
Eugenic infanticide. Quintilian, indeed, declared 
that the exposed rarely survived,^ but the possi- 
bilities of gain must have led to frequent pre- 
servation — " vel ad lupanar vel ad servitutem." ^ 
Occasionally the luckless child falls into the hands of 
unscrupulous mendicants, who maim it and exhibit 
it for gain.^ The existence of a numerous class of 
SpeiTToi was a problem with which Pliny had to 
deal. 

So the Christian Councils and the Christian Em- 
perors set themselves vehemently to oppose the 
practice, but, using palliation instead of prevention, 

^ " Dec," cccvi. 6. 

2 Lact., " De Vero Cultu.,'* lib. vi. 

* Seneca, " Controv.," v. 33. 

13 2 



Ancient Eugenics 

relieved the world of one problem and left another 
in its place. Despite the legislation of Constant ine, 
Valentinian, and Justinian, exposure still continued. 
Marble vessels at the door of the churches produced 
the evil turning slide, and gradually there came into 
being hospitals, asylums, refuges, creches, receiving 
and tending the blind, the deaf, the dumb, the 
crippled, and defective, and with much good has 
also come much evil. Out of the failure of the 
Christian Fathers to find the right solution to a 
difficult problem has arisen the imperative need for 
the scientific altruism of Eugenics. 

Beyond infanticide, which, despite its many per- 
versions, was in part Eugenic, the Romans made 
no conscious effort to build a scheme of racial regen- 
eration. Whatever the appeal of ** patient Lace- 
daemon " to the sentimental vulgarity of the 
Romans, they learnt no lesson from their admira- 
tion, though the biographer of Lycurgus lectured 
to Domitian. In the crude scheme of the Germans 
Tacitus finds no Eugenic moral. 

Restrictive marriage, perhaps, would have been a 
perilous lesson to teach to the Caesars, in whom, from 
Julius the epileptic to Nero the madman, psycholo- 
gists find clear proof of hereditary insanity. Pliny's 
boast that for 600 years Rome had known no doctors 
shows that there was little interest among the 
Romans in schemes of hygiene or social reform. 
The Greeks themselves had long ago forgotten the 
teaching of Plato and Aristotle. Eugenics was lost in 
Stoicism, and Stoicism was the creed of the Empire. 

14 



Ancient Eugenics 

" This age is worse than the previous age, and 
our father will beget worse offspring still." And 
Aratus voices again the lament of Horace: " What 
an age the golden sires have left behind them, and 
your children will be worse even than you I"^ The 
Golden Age of Rome lay for ever in the past. 

In Greece, the theory underwent a logical develop- 
ment. State-controlled infanticide passes into a 
definite scheme of Negative Eugenics. The Nega- 
tive aspect, giving rise to the Positive, fades into 
the background, and is retained merely as a check 
on the imperfections of a constructive scheme. 

The systematized infanticide of Sparta, so far 
from being a recrudescence to atavism, is an advance 
towards civilization. A custom which had been so 
deeply implanted in the race by ages of barbarism, 
and had resisted for centuries the incessant warfare 
of the Christian Fathers at Rome, would not easily 
have been uprooted in Greece. To supersede the 
reckless and capricious brutality of individuals by 
state infanticide on a definite basis was an essential 
gain to humanity, however much the Spartans may 
have been actuated by ulterior motives. 

The destiny of the new-born child is no longer 
decreed in the privacy of the home; it is brought 
instead into the Council Hall before the Elders of 
the tribe. If well set up and strong, it is to be 
reared; otherwise, doomed as useless, it is cast into 
the fateful chasm on the slopes of Mount Taygetus, 
for they hold that " it was better for the child and 
1 " Phenom./' 123-124. 
15 



Ancient Eugenics 

the city that one not born from the beginning to 
comehness and strength should not live."^ 

Selective infanticide can only rest on a physical 
basis; there is no speculation in latent capacity. 
There was no list of unhealthy geniuses in the annals 
of Sparta, no St. Paul, no Mohammed, no Schumann, 
no De Quincey. Even if selection had been less 
rigorous, and genius had been conceded the right to 
live, environment would have denied it the right 
to develop. Sparta, content that Athens should 
be the Kulturstaat of Greece, cared only that the 
military hegemony should be her unchallenged right. 

Once infanticide had become a system, its recogni- 
tion as a fis aller would suggest regulation of mar- 
riage. By retention of infanticide as ancillary to 
the Constructive Scheme, the anomalies of heredity 
admitted of a simple and ruthless solution. 

Positive Eugenics, not only in the past, but also 
to-day, is based on the analogy of animal breeding. 
The Spartans were the first to realize the incon- 
sistency of improving the breed of their dogs and 
horses, and leaving to human kind the reckless 
propagation of the mentally defective, the diseased, 
and the unfit .2 

The use of analogy presents many pitfalls to be 
surmounted, and it is easy to see the absurdity of 
any conception of Eugenics as a sort of higher 
cattle-breeding. Full experimental control is not 
possible with man as it is with animals and plants. 
The analogy, literally accepted, would require a 

1 Plut., " Lye," 16. 2 iiid,^ XV. 25. 

16 



Ancient Eugenics 

race of supermen, or some outside scientific authority 
manipulating a lower stock for its own advantage. 
Human Eugenics, to be effective, can never be a 
cold-blooded selection of partners from without; it 
must be voluntary, and from within, resulting from 
a new ethical sense of the individual's relation to the 
social group. 

In the second place, the whole world of spiritual 
motives lies outside the province of the breeder. 
He is faced with no problem of differentiation. 
With a clear and homogeneous ideal before him, he 
sets himself to its attainment, killing and preserving 
with simple and ruthless precision. The Spartan 
system was partly a literal acceptance of the analogy, 
partly a spiritualization. There was no cold-blooded 
selection of partners, and no interference with sexual 
attraction. The Romantic ideal was the discovery 
of the late Greek world under the Roman Empire, 
but any sentiment that existed at Sparta was as 
unhampered as romance to-day in the theory of 
modern Eugenists. 

Marriage was by simulated abduction.^ The story 
quoted by Athenaeus of blind selection in a darkened 
room may be rejected as a palpable absurdity .2 
The only restriction was in the matter of age^ — a 
regulation which was the commonplace of Greek 
thought from the days of Hesiod^ to the time of 

1 Plut., " Lye," XV. 15. 

2 Ath., " Deipn.," xiii. 553c. 

3 Plut., "Lye," 15; Xen., "Reip. Lac," i. 7. 
* " Op. et Dies," 695 et seq. 

17 



Ancient Eugenics 

Aristotle. Modern knowledge shows the influence 
of parental age not only upon the physique, but also 
upon the character of the offspring.^ 

The Spartans, therefore, were, within these limits, 
unfettered in their choice of brides, but were 
punished for abuse of the liberty conceded them. 
There was a penalty appointed for celibacy, a 
penalty for late marriage, but the third and the 
greatest penalty was for a bad marriage.^ 

A further concession, the privilege only of the 
worthy, is seen in the compliances permitted on the 
part of the wife, that she might produce children for 
the state. So far from this practice being a recru- 
descence to the habits of the early savage,^ or an 
instance of an Aryan custom akin to the Hebrew 
Levirate,'* it seems obvious that it was a Eugenic 
measure suggested by the analogy of the breeder.^ 
Thus, it appears that within Eugenic limits con- 
siderable play was conceded to human personality. 

It is true that the bearing of children was regarded 
as the essential function of women, and this view, 
though biologically justified, seems to ignore that 
other aspect of marriage — mutual assistance and 
companionship.^ But even in free Athens the ideal 

^ Mario, " Influence of Age of Parents on Psychophysical 
Characters of Offspring. " Paper read before Eugenics 
Congress, 191 2. 

2 Stobaeus, Ixvii. 16. Vide Plut., " Lysand. fin.," p. 45ia&. 

3 Barker, " Political Thought of Plato and Aristotle," 

P- 153. 
* Mahaffy, " Greek Literature," vol. ii., part 2, p. 68. 
« Plut., " Lye," XV. 30. « Ibid., " Lye. et Num.," 4. 
18 



Ancient Eugenics 

of a Nausicaa, Penelope, or Andromache, had been 
superseded long since by a conception of woman 
which regarded her as little more than a procreative 
drudge. Love marriages and genuine affection were 
commoner in Sparta than in Athens. The conduct 
of Agesistrata and Kratesickleia^ on the death of 
their husbands, though it is evidence at a later date, 
shows traces of genuine feeling. In this respect, 
therefore, the Spartan practice was not remote from 
modern ideals, but infanticide, eliminating the unfit 
at birth, offered a solution of the problem which we 
can only hope to solve by the scientific application 
of the principles of heredity. 

The Spartan method of breeding avoided the 
pitfalls of analogy; their aim implied a literal ac- 
ceptance. The modem problem is the selection of 
qualities on a basis broad enough to represent the 
natural differentiation of individuals and nations, 
the problem of a Eugenic ethnology. The Spartans, 
like the breeder of animals, bred for a single quality 
and a single uniform type. Setting life on a phy- 
sical basis, regarding bodily efficiency as the only 
quality of use to a military brotherhood, they pur- 
sued their aim with the ruthless precision of the 
breeder. It was a narrow and egotistical aim, but 
consistent with a Constructive scheme of Eugenics 
which can only be maintained by eliminating un- 
desired elements at birth. 

At the same time the selection of physique has 
certain obvious advantages. To the Greeks, be- 

1 Plut., " Agis," 20; " Kleom.," 37, 38. 
19 



Ancient Eugenics 

lieving only in the beauty of the spirit when reflected 
in the beauty of the flesh, the good body was the 
necessary correlation of the good soul. Though 
there was no conscious assertion of this relation 
among the Spartans, there may have been some 
latent recognition helping to justify their aim. 
Moreover, while there is no dynamometer of intelli- 
gence, physique admits of easy estimation. There 
is therefore a certain justification for the simple 
and unscientific dogma of the Spartan lawgiver: 
'* If the parents are strong, the children will be 
strong." 

The Spartans realized that to secure the fitness 
of the child it must be guarded even before birth by 
bestowing due care on the food and habits of the 
future mother. Antenatal influences explain many 
of the apparent anomalies of heredity, but, while 
recognizing the value of the Spartan aim, a nobler 
conception of humanity rejects their method. 
Sedentary occupations can no longer be assigned 
to slaves.^ Society still rests on a basis of lower 
labour. He "that holdeth the plough" must still 
" maintain the state of the world," but he is no 
longer a mere means, a living instrument, excluded 
from every political privilege and every social 
reform. The limited and aristocratic Eugenics of 
Sparta is amplified into a scheme which embraces 
every class of the community. But this extension 
involves fresh complexities. By state interference 
m various ways, such as endeavours to modify " the 

1 Xen., " Reip. Lac," 3. 
20 



Ancient Eugenics 

influence of the factory system on the women who 
would be the mothers of the next generation," we 
attempt to palliate where the Spartans were content 
to neglect. 

The Spartans recognized that environment as 
well as heredity is a factor in the development of 
man. There is a scheme of physical education for 
men and women, and the one narrow aim was so 
exclusively pursued, that it was said of them that 
they could not even read.^ Modern education on 
its wider basis affords no parallel with the Spartan, 
but the bureaucratic control of the buagor, the 
ilarch, and the melliran, and a common centre of 
supervision have similarities with certain modern 
ideals. It is claimed that the control already estab- 
lished for certain classes of children, during limited 
periods, should be exerted over all children, and 
extend through the whole course of their evolution. 
There is to be compulsory control as well as com- 
pulsory education, and there is an institution which 
is to be frequented by all children, on whose develop- 
ment there is no effective control at home.^ These 
methodically organized institutions, harmonizing 
well enough with the monistic view of the Spartan 
state, could never be adjusted to modern conceptions 
of individual right. 

Apart from the question of quality, there is also 
the question of quantity. Modern Eugenists are 

^ Isoc, " Panath. Or.," xv. 277. 

2 Dr. Querton, " On Practical Organization of Eugenic 
Action." Read before Eugenics Congress. 

21 



Ancient Eugenics 

faced with the problem of the diminishing numbers 
of the upper classes and the rapid multiplication of 
the lower. The Spartans were concerned with the 
same problem in a different aspect; this tendency, 
suffered to run its course unchecked, meant to them 
extermination by war; to-day it means elimination 
by disease. 

The Spartans were a small immigrant band, face 
to face with an extensive and powerful autochtho- 
nous population — a camp in the centre of a hostile 
country. " We are few in the midst of many 
enemies " was the warning spoken by Brasidas,^ 
and this position of constant danger affected the 
problem in two ways. There must be no falling 
birth-rate among the Spartans, no unchecked fer- 
tility among their subjects. 

Three measures were employed to maintain the 
number of the Spartans : prevention of emigration,^ 
penalties for celibacy,^ and rewards for fertility.^ 
The man with three children was to be excused the 
night watch, the man with four was to be immune 
from taxation. A third measure known to the 
ancient world, the enfranchisement of aliens, though 
adopted at times under the ancient Kings,^ was 
rendered impossible by the later exclusion of every 
foreigner from the land. Avoidance of moral or 
physical corruption was set before preservation of 

1 Thuc, iv. 126. 2 Xen., " Reip. Lac," xiv. 

3 Plut., " Lye," 15; Athenaeus, xiii. 553c. 

* At., " Pol.," 1270&. 

* Ihid., 1270a. 

22 



Ancient Eugenics 

numbers.^ The alien is a disturbing element in any 
Eugenic scheme. 

The natural tendency of civilization, a declining 
birth-rate, would have brought destruction upon 
Sparta. Nevertheless, this attempt to maintain the 
numbers of the citizens seems to have met with 
little success. Xenophon speaks of Sparta as having 
the smallest population in Greece .2 Aristotle tells 
us that once the numbers of the Spartans amounted 
to 10,000: in his time they were not even 1,000, 
though the country was able to support 1,500 horse 
and 30,000 foot. The city unable to support one 
shock was ruined. Aristotle finds the cause of 
failure in the unequal division of property.^ But 
nowhere have attempts to interfere with the down- 
ward course of the birth-rate met with success : they 
were doomed to failure in Sparta as they failed in 
Imperial Rome. There is a moral in the tale of 
Plutarch, that Antiorus, the only son of Lycurgus, 
died childless, dooming the race to extinction.'* 

In limiting the numbers of the subject population, 
the drastic methods of the Kpymela admitted of no 
failure. Infanticide was brutal, but it was set on a 
rational basis; this indiscriminate and covert mas- 
sacre on the vague pretext of fear or suspicion, was 
possible only to a people not fully emerged from 
barbarism. On one occasion more than 2,000 were 
made away with, " on account of their youth and 
great numbers." Even Plutarch, with all his 

1 Plut., " Lye," 27. 2 - Reip. Lac," i. 

3 ** Pol.," 1270a. * ** Lye," xxxi. 25. 

23 



Ancient Eugenics 

Laconism, censured the KpyirTeia as an " abominable 
work/' and refused it a place among the measures 
of Lycurgus.^ 

The productivity of the worst classes must be 
checked no less to-day in the interests of Eugenics, 
but not by such methods as these. We may improve 
their environment, so that response to improved 
conditions may result in a natural limitation, or 
with the increase of knowledge we may forbid their 
propagation, but the method of massacre died with 
the decadence of Sparta. 

These inchoate Eugenics had their measure of 
success. The modern school of Anthropo -geogra- 
phy, following in the footsteps of Mill and Buckle 
in an older generation, would attribute to material 
environment their limitations and their greatness. 
Surrounded by discontented subjects and hostile 
serfs, with enemies at their very doors, and no point 
in the land a day's march away, it was natural that 
they passed their days as in a camp: shut away in 
*' hollow Lacedsemon with its many vales," it was 
natural that they had no share in the progress of 
the world round them. But in the seventh century 
Lyric poetry had found a new home on the banks of 
the Eurotas. Terpander the Lesbian, Alcman the 
Lydian, Cingethon the Spartan, show that there 
was a time when Lacedsemon also had cultivated 
the Muses. The nobles lived luxuriously: the indi- 
vidual was free. 

The Lycurgean discipline was therefore no arbi- 

1 " Lye," xxviii. 20. 
24 



Ancient Eugenics 

trary product of circumstances: it was a deliberate 
and calculated policy. As such, it is easy to criticize 
its limitations, to assert that it mistook the means 
for the end, that it fitted the citizen only for war, 
and unfitted him for peace. ^ It is wilful neglect of 
facts to declare that the only success achieved was the 
success of the disciplined against the undisciplined: 
that the only veneration the Spartans received was 
the veneration of conquerors. ^ 

Their whole aim was narrow, calculated, and 
egotistic ; their Eugenic system was merely ancillary 
to the /)ne occupation of war : neglecting all the com- 
plexity of man's psychical nature, it aimed at the 
improvement of a single aspect of humanity, and 
that not the highest: sacrificing the Sudra caste in 
the interests of the Brahmins, it aimed only at the 
production of a breed of supermen. Nevertheless, 
it is clear that within its narrow confines this rude 
system succeeded. Sparta has been proclaimed the 
only state in which the physical improvement of the 
race was undoubted, while the chastity and refine- 
ment of both sexes was unimpaired.^ *' It is easy 
to see," declared Xenophon, ** that these measures 
with regard to child-bearing, opposed as they were 
to the customs of the rest of Greece, produced a 
race excelling in size and strength. Not easily 
would one find people healthier or more physically 
useful than the Spartans."^ 

1 Ar., " Pol.," 1325a, I333&- ^ Ibid., 1338&, 13246. 

^ Mahafiy, " Greek Literature," vol. ii., part i, p. 201. 
* " Reip. Lac," i. 10; v. 9. 
25 



Ancient Eugenics 

The Lampito of Aristophanes, introduced as the 
representative of her race, shows how the Spartan 
women impressed the rest of Greece. Beauty, 
physique, self-control — these were the accepted 
characteristics of the type.^ Sparta was the pro- 
verbial land of fair wo men. ^ 

The direct influence of Spartan Eugenics was 
infinitesimal. It was an honour to have a Spartan 
nurse and good form to affect the rude abruptness 
of the Spartan manner, but no attempt was ever 
made to adopt their training or institutions. 

There were the paper-polities of Plato and 
Diogenes, but their legacy to the world was only 
"Words and writings."^ The Athenians of the 
fifth century had nothing but contempt for the 
institutions of their rivals, voiced in the patriotic 
travesties of Euripides.^ Sparta was the national 
foe, and Sparta fell into early decadence. 

Xenophon lamented that in his time the Spartans 
neither obeyed God nor the Laws of Lycurgus.^ 
Already, when Plato wrote the Laws, there are signs 
that Sparta was falling into disrepute, and the 
Politics of Aristotle shows an imminent degeneracy : 
Ares bears the yoke of Aphrodite, liberty has become 
licence. Agis III. attempted in vain to restore the 
old Lycurgean discipline, which had become a mere 

1 "Lysistrat.," 78. 

2 Athenaeus, xiii. 566a [KaWla-ras yewiba-rjs rhs yvvaiKCLs). 

3 Plut., "Lyc.,"3i. 

* Thuc, ii. 39; Xen., "Mem.," iii. 5; Eurip., " Androm.," 
597, etc. 

* Xen., " Rejp. Lac," xiv. 7. 

26 



Ancient Eugenics 

shadow and a name. Kleomenes attained some 
measure of success, but foreign arms intervened. 
Nevertheless, the empty husk of the ancient system 
lasted with strange persistence through centuries 
of neglect. If the Spartan Eugenics had taken 
some account of those other tendencies of its earlier 
history, its influence on the world might have been 
of greater importance. 

The Ancients, struck by certain obvious resem- 
blances, believed that the Spartan constitution was 
in part a plagiarism of the Cretan. The laws and 
institutions of both countries aimed at creating a 
class of warriors,^ but in general most new things are 
an improvement upon the old,^ and the Cretans never 
reached back beyond the education of the youth. 

The physical training at Crete may have sug- 
gested its parallel at Sparta, but its broader basis 
of culture belonged to Crete alone. Like Sparta, 
Crete endeavoured by artificial interference to regu- 
late the growth of its population, raising its numbers 
by forbidding celibacy, reducing them by a curious 
measure which has no parallel elsewhere.^ In this 
matter of Eugenics, therefore, Sparta owes but little, 
to Crete. 

The constitution of Carthage was also declared 
by Aristotle to bear a close resemblance in some 
particulars to the Spartan.^ But there is no trace 

1 Plato, " Laws," 630 E. 2 At., " Pol.," 1272a. 

3 Ihid.y 1272a. According to McLennan, the practice 
would be the result of female infanticide. 
* Ihid., 1273a. 

27 



Anciont Eugenics 

at Carthage of any institution having a Eugenic 
tendency. There is infanticide, but infanticide 
merely as a phase of a general custom of human 
sacrifice.^ 

There is, however, one other ancient race, amongst 
whom we find traces of Eugenic practice — the sturdy 
warriors of Germania Transrhenana, or Barbara. 
They were not, indeed, an utterly primitive people : 
of art and literature they were almost entirely ig- 
norant ; of the civilization of Greek and Italian cities 
they knew nothing; but they possessed a definite 
social organization, and a religion not lacking in 
nobler elements. 

Unfortunately, our only authority is a writer con- 
cerned more with ethics than history, treating facts 
with a certain Procrustean freedom to fit a pre- 
conceived morality. History becomes the handmaid 
to moral contrast, and there are the errors of im- 
perfect information, on which no light is thrown by 
others who have dealt with this same people. 

It was a system, so far as one could judge, that 
relied on positive methods. " To limit the number 
of their children or to put to death any of the later 
born, they regarded as an act repugnant to human 
nature (flagitium). There are no rewards for the 
childless. "2 Two distinct points are involved in 
this approbation — ^uncontrolled reproduction and 
absence of callous infanticide. At Rome, among 
the many excuses for exposure or infanticide recog- 

^ Diod., XX. 14; Plut., " De sera num. vindic," 6. 
2 Tac, "German.," 19 and 20. 
28 



Ancient Eugenics 

nized by custom, was the birth of a child after the 
will had been made.^ This does not necessarily 
prove the total absence of infanticide among the 
Germans; it merely indicates the prohibition of the 
practice from callous indolence or on the grounds 
of superfluity. Tacitus, however, makes the same 
statement of the Jews, to whom, having before them 
the injunction to increase and multiply, the whole 
practice would naturally be abhorrent. Possibly, 
therefore, the Germans, in contradistinction to 
almost all ancient peoples, had refused to sanctic^i 
the custom on any basis whatever. 

In the matter of uncontrolled reproduction, a high 
birth-rate, though negatived almost invariably by 
a corresponding death-rate, was a natural ideal 
amongst a people threatened with constant deple- 
tion by the severity of military selection. Tacitus, 
ignorant of relativism, failed to see that the evil he 
deprecated in Rome was the inevitable result of the 
tendency which he lauded amongst the Germans. 

The basis of selection was stature as well as 
strength. Infanticide, therefore, would have been 
impossible as a check on failure. Early marriages 
were forbidden, but instead of a penalty on the child- 
less, we find an encouragement of celibacy .^ It 
seems, therefore, that there was some endeavour to 
limit the number of children, which found no place 
in the Tacitean scheme of German morality. 

In place of the Spartan " compliance " we find 
polygamy on a limited scale, conceded as a privilege 

1 Cic, " De Oratore," i. 57. 2 Caes., " Bell. Gall.," vi. 21. 

29 3 



Ancient Eugenics 

only to a few " on account of noble birth." Satis- 
fied with this regulation of nature, they paid no 
attention to nurture. The children grew to man- 
hood, naked and uncared for, with no distinction 
between master and slave. The women, it seems, 
like the women of the Republic, followed their hus- 
bands into war.^ 

The results of this system appear inevitable 
enough. We find a race conspicuous for its stature 
and strength, but conspicuous also for its absence 
of moral courage. The children, says Tacitus, re- 
produce the vigour of their parents, and he speaks 
of their stature and strength of limb as the admira- 
tion of the Romans. Their tallness is frequently a 
theme for comment in the '* Histories." ^ When 
Rome fell to the Flavianists, it was assumed that 
anyone of exceptional stature was a Vitellianist 
and a German. 

But they were mere machines with no moral 
courage to turn their strength to account. With 
Spartan training to develop the raw material of 
inheritance, they would have been a different race. 
They were incapable of enduring hardships to which 
they had not been inured:^ their frames were huge, 
but vigorous only for attack; their strength was 
great for sudden effort, but they could not endure 
wounds.^ Their courage was the frenzy of the 
Berserk, not the disciplined valour of the Spartan 
hoplite. 

1 Strabo, 20. 2 " Hist.," iv. i, 14; v. 14. 

2 " German.," 4. * " Annals," ii. 14. 

30 



Ancient Eugenics 

In time their stature must have deteriorated. 
While the children of tall parents tend to be taller 
than the average, there is a gradual return to the 
mean. However severe and continuous the selection, 
there is a point beyond which advance cannot go.^ 

The German Eugenics seem to have left no im- 
pression upon the Roman mind. Their stature and 
physique were attributed merely to chastity .2 The 
German system, therefore, led nowhere in antiquity : 
the Spartan system led on to the theories of Plato 
and Aristotle. 

The fifth century at Athens was an age of criticism 
and self -consciousness : the era of reflection had 
followed the era of intuition, and scepticism brought 
iconoclasm which shattered the ancient symbols. 
There were abolitionists, coUectivists, social re- 
formers in every phase, but no scheme of Eugenics 
till Plato. Intensity of anti-Spartan sentiment may 
have put such theories beyond the pale of the 
patriot. Social reformers could find their argu- 
ments for communism or promiscuity among Hyper- 
boreans, Libyans, and Agathyrsi; but Eugenics was 
a creed peculiar to the hereditary foe. Neverthe- 
less, certain aspects of the question had been for 
centuries the commonplace of Greek thought. Even 
in the proverbial stage of Greek philosophy the 
gnomic poets among their isolated apothegms have 
caught some facets of the truth. 

^ See Eugenics Review, July, 1912; Cossack, " Origin of 
Human Abnormalities." 
3 Caes., " BeU. Gall.," vi. 21. 
31 



Ancient Eugenics 

In Theognis there is a glimpse of the analogy 
between the breeding of animals and human kind 
and almost an anticipatory scheme of Eugenics :^ 
" We seek well-bred rams and sheep and horses and 
one wishes to breed from these. Yet a good man 
is willing to marry an evil wife, if she bring him 
wealth: nor does a woman refuse to marry an evil 
husband who is rich. For men reverence money, 
and the good marry the evil, and the evil the good. 
Wealth has confounded the race." 

" His starting-point is the true one," remarks the 
ancient commentator, " for he begins with good 
birth. He thought that neither man nor any other 
living creature could be good unless those who were 
to give him birth were good. So he used the analogy 
of other animals which are not reared carelessly, 
but tended with individual attention that they may 
be noblest. These words of the poet show that men 
do not know how to bear children, and so the race 
degenerates, the worse ever mingling with the 
better. Most people imagine that the poet is merely 
indicting the custom of marrying the low-born and 
vicious for the sake of money. To me it seems that 
this is an indictment of man's ignorance of his own 
life." 2 Lycurgus, according to Plutarch,^ used this 
analogy to demonstrate the folly of other cities where 
the husbands, keeping their wives in seclusion, beget 
children from them even if mad, diseased, or past 

1 Theog., V. 183. 

2 Stobaeus, Ixxxviii. 14 {^€vo<pQvTos ^k toO trepl Qcoyvlbo^). 

3 Plut., " Lye," XV. 25. 

32 



Ancient Eugenics 

their prime. This was the starting-point of the 
Spartan Eugenics, as it has been the starting-point 
of the Modern : at Athens it was never more than the 
sententious maxim of an early poet. 

The evils of disparity of age, the thought that 
" one must consider the ages of those who are brought 
together,"^ had formed themes for Hesiod,^ Sappho,^ 
and Theognis.4 Pythagoras, it is said, had dis- 
cussed the bad effects of early marriage:^ Solon had 
legislated upon it;® and had dealt no less with that 
other recognized evil of antiquity and modem times, 
the mercenary marriage."^ 

A problem that obsessed the Greeks was the 
relative influence of nature and nurture, of gametic 
and non-gametic causes. It is a question almost 
invariably of morals, though the dominant aestheti- 
cism of Greek thought may have reduced the prob- 
lem to a single issue: " Thou art unpleasing to look 
upon and thy character is like to thy form."® 

" Most children are worse than their parents, few 
are better."^ " The evil are not wholly evil from 
birth, but associating with the evil they have learnt 
unseemly deeds." ^° " Sometimes a noble offspring 
does not spring from well-born parents, nor an evil 
child from useless parents." ^^ But the general view 

* Cf. Stobseus, 71. 2 5g2 gi ^eq. 

' 20. * 457. 
6 Miiller, " Fr. Hist. Gk.," ii. 278. 

« Plut., " Sol.," XX. 25. ^ Ibid., 15. 

8 Stobaeus, xc. 9. ® " Odyss.,'* ii. 227. 

10 Theog., 305. " Soph., "Tyro, Fr." 583. 

33 



Ancient Eugenics 

of heredity was as fatalistic as Ibsenism. No edu- 
cation can make the bad man good : no ^Esculapius 
can cure the moral taint. ^ Just as roses and hyacinths 
do not spring from squills, so from a slave-woman 
no free child can be bom.^ Antigone of Sophocles 
is fierce because her father was fierce,^ just as the 
Brand of Ibsen was obstinate because his mother 
was obstinate. 

Modern knowledge has justified the Greeks in 
attributing this dominance to heredity. Men do 
not gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles : the 
total contribution of environment is merely oppor- 
tunity: it can only aid or retard the development 
of genetic character. The Greeks, except in the 
dramatic conception of an ancestral curse, or in the 
inherited pollution of ancient sacrilege, never traced 
causes back beyond the immediate progenitors. 
Galton held that the individual was the arithmetic 
mean of three different quantities, his father and 
mother, and the whole species of maternal and 
paternal ancestors, going back in a double series to 
the very beginnings of all life.^ Greek thought 
never concerned itself with this third and unknown 
datum. Mendelism has brought us back once more 
to the immediate parents. 

Side by side with this interest in questions of 
nature and niurture is the dawn of that individual- 
istic spirit, which culminated at last in egotistic 

* Theog., 432. « Ibid.y 537. 

» 471. * '* Natural Inheritance." 

34 



Ancient Eugenics 

contempt of offspring and marriage. Heraclitus is the 
forerunner of Stoicism, Democritus of Epicureanism, 
and the negative teaching of the sophists is the pre- 
cursor of that atomistic conception of society which 
reduced it to a mere complex of self-centred units. 

If there had been any attempt to systematize 
these fragmentary conceptions, we should find it 
mirrored in the pages of Euripides. All the incon- 
sistencies of current theory are voiced by opposing 
characters, every speculation that was bom " in 
that great seething chaos of hope and despair," 
thesis and antithesis but no synthesis before Plato. 
It is the diagnosis and not the remedy which interests 
Euripides. 

There is the question of the marriage age. It is a 
baneful thing to give one's children in wedlock to 
the aged.^ The aged husband is a bane to the youth- 
ful wife .2 No less is it an evil to wed youth to youth, 
for the vigour of the husband endures for longer, but 
a woman more quickly fades from her prime .^ 

There is the denunciation, too, of mercenary 
marriage. Those who marry for position or wealth 
know not how to marry .^ Nature endures, wealth 
is fleeting.^ Is it not therefore the duty of the man, 
who takes good counsel, to mcurry the noble, and to 
give in marriage among the noble, and to have no 
desire for an evil wedlock, even if one should thereby 

1 " Fr." I (Phoenix). 2 » Fr..* ^ (Dan.). 

« " Fr." 8 (^oL). 

* " Fr." 16 (Melanippe) ; " Elec," 1096. 

» " Elec," 941. 

35 



Ancient Eugenics 

win a wealthy dower ? ^ There is much discussion 
of the relative influence of heredity and environ- 
ment.2 Is it not wonderful that poor soil, blest with 
a favourable season from the gods, bears corn in 
abundance, whilst good soil, deprived of what it 
should have received, yields but a poor crop, yet 
with human kind the worthless is always base, the 
noble never anything but noble ? Is it the parents 
who make the difference, or the modes of training ?^ 
And the answer of the ancients was that " Nature is 
greatest." 4 How true the old tale that no good 
child wiU ever come from an evil parent.^ The 
opinion that children resemble their parents is 
oftentimes proved true.^ Noble children are born 
from noble sires, the base are like in nature to their 
father^ If one were to yoke good with bad, no 
good offspring would be bom; but if both parents 
are good, they will bear noble children.^ Never- 
theless, mortal natures are complex things ; a child of 
no account may be born of a noble sire, and good 
children from evil parents,^ but no education can 
transform the bad child of evil stock.^° The fairest 
gift that one can give children is to be bom of 
noble parents. ^^ " I bid all mortals beget well-born 
children from noble sires." ^^ And the well-born 



1 *' Androm.," 1279 et 


seq. 


2 " Elec," 941. 


^ " Hec," 592 et seq. 




* "Fr." 12 (Phoenix) 


5 ''Fr." 15 (Dictys.). 




« "Fr." lo (Antig.). 


7 "Fr." y (Alcmaeon). 




8 "Fr."9(Meleager). 


» " Elec," 368. 




10 " Fr. Incert.," 38. 


Li " Herac./' 298. 




12 '^Fi-." 17 (Antiope) 



36 



Ancient Eugenics 

man is the man who is noble in character, not the 
unjust man, though he be bom of a better father 
than Zeus.^ 

Nevertheless, it remains a duty to educate one's 
children well .2 Specialized athleticism is as baneful 
as over-refinement. You cannot fight an enemy 
with quoits, nor drive them out with the fist. 
Though war is an evil, military training is an ad- 
vantage to youth .^ 

Euripides reflects no less the growing cynicism of 
the age, abusing women, praising celibacy, de- 
nouncing the cares and anxieties of bringing up 
children.^ There is something, too, of the philo- 
sophic egotism of Marcus Aurelius: if you marry, 
your children may turn out evil ; if they are good 
there is the fear of losing them.^ But in the " Ion " he 
speaks with the voice of the old Athenian morality : 
" I hate the childless, and blame the man to whom 
such a life seems good.'*® 

There is one passage which served as a text for 
Plutarch's treatise on Education, and might serve 
no less to-day as a text for Modern Eugenics : 

irav dk KpffvU fiii KarapX-qdrj yivovs 
dpdws, dvdyKT} dvffTvx€iv toj>$ iKydvovs.'^ 

Aristophanes also reflects all the foibles and ob- 

1 "Fr." II (Diet.). 2 - Supp.," 917. 

3 "Elec.,"388;"Med.,"295. 
* " Med.," 1030; " Ale," 238, 885 et seq. 
^ Marc. Aurel., ix. 40; " Fr. CEnom.," 2; ** Fr. In- 
cert.," 963. « Eurip.,488; '*Ion." 

' Plut., " De Edu.," 2; "H. F.," 1264. 
37 



Ancient Eugenics 

sessions of a sceptical age. The existence of Eu- 
genics at Sparta, robbing the theory of something 
of the revolutionary aspect which it wears to-day, 
would perhaps have rendered it less a feature for 
debate than community of wives or women's rights. 

Nevertheless, if Eugenics had ever taken a prom- 
inent place in Athenian thought, it would have 
furnished a richer mine of parody than the fantastic 
obscenity of the Ecclesiazusae. It is commonly 
held that Socrates suggested all the thought and 
philosophy of the succeeding centuries. We should 
expect, therefore, to find some cartography, as it 
were, of Eugenics paving the way for the fuller 
imaginings of his pupil Plato. If we regard Xeno- 
phon as the only trustworthy source for the oral 
teachings of Socrates, we may seek in the " Memora- 
bilia " for these earlier adumbrations.^ 

We find the old question of nature and nurture* 
and with it an attempt to solve the problems of 
heredity. How is it, asks Hippias, " that parents 
of good stock do not always produce children as 
good "? To put the dilemma in a modern form. Why 
is it that personal value is not necessarily the same 
as reproductive value ? And the answer which 
Socrates suggests is an answer which has been given 
to the same question to-day. Good stock is not 
everything; both parents must be equally in their 
prime. 2 " The apparent anomalies which children 
present in not reproducing the qualities of their 

^ Vide Zeller, " Socrates and his School," p. loo. 
2 " Mem.," ii. 4. 

38 



Ancient Eugenics 

parents only serve to reveal the presence of par- 
ticular conditions, and among those conditions must 
be included the changes which organism undergoes 
by reason of advancing age." ^ 

There are other conditions also. Eugenics begins 
earlier than birth; the unborn child must be pro- 
tected by bestowing due care on the future mother. 
A man, says Socrates, has a twofold duty: towards 
his wife, to cherish her who is to raise up children 
along with him, and towards children yet unborn, 
to provide them with things which he thinks will 
contribute to their well-being.^ The fatal handicap 
may have already begun in the starving or over- 
working of the mother. 

But congenital eve^ia must be emphasized by 
education : Socrates is deeply impressed with the 
evils of its neglect both on the physical and spiritual 
side. The Athenians, not content with neglecting a 
good habit, laugh to scorn those who are careful in 
the matter. When will the Athenians pay strict 
attention to the body ?^ While Euripides denounces 
the baneful effect of the great athletic festivals, 
Socrates laments the indifference which could pro- 
duce an Epigones.^ 

It is no aesthetic view of morals which makes 
Socrates insist on the need of physical training : he 
is concerned rather with the effect of ill-health upon 

* Marro, " Influence of Parental Age.*' Paper read before 
Eugenics Congress. 

* " Mem.," book 2, chap. ii. 

« iii. 5. * iii. 12. 

39 



Ancient Eugenics 

the mind : the reasoning powers suffer atrophy : ill- 
health may expel all knowledge from a man.^ 

There must be moral education no less than 
physical training. *' Corruptio optimi pessima " is 
the warning of Socrates as well as of Plato .2 The 
youth with the best natural endowments will, if 
trained, prove superlatively good. Leave him un- 
trained, and he will become, not merely evil, but 
degenerate beyond hope of reclaim. The very mag- 
nificence of his character makes it impossible to 
restrain him. 

In the Socratic treatment of Eugenic questions 
there are traces of that individualistic spirit which, 
neglecting social aspects and regarding only per- 
sonal consequences, led on in logical succession to 
abnegation of marriage and offspring. It is not 
mere momentary desire, says Socrates, which in- 
fluences human beings in the production of children ; 
nothing is plainer than the pains we take to seek 
out wives who shall bear us the finest children.^ 

And the penalty for error is the penalty, not of 
human, but of Divine law. What worse calamity 
can befall a man than to produce misbegotten 
children ?^ And so with training : because the city 
has instituted no public military training there is 
no need to neglect it in private.^ No demonstration 
of a self-incurred penalty is likely to appeal to the 
degenerate or feeble-minded. 

Xenophon was a man of timid and commonplace 

^ iii. 12. 2 iv. 2; cf. *' Rep.," 4976. 

• ii. 2. * iv. 4. ^ iii. 12. 

40 



Ancient Eugenics 

mind, and reported nothing he could not compre- 
hend. We may suspect from Plato that much of 
the Socratic teaching has been lost, but if there had 
been any fuller systematization of Eugenics, it is 
improbable that the Philo-Laconist Xenophon would 
have failed to leave a record. 

Critias, the pupil of Socrates, seems to have advo- 
cated something like a Spartan system of Eugenics. 
" I begin with man's birth, showing how he may 
become best and strongest in body, if the father 
trains and undergoes hardship, and the future mother 
is strong and also trains." ^ But a complete develop- 
ment along Spartan lines begins with Plato, and 
Socrates led not only to Plato, but to Cynic and 
Cyrenaic individualism. 

Nevertheless, the incivism of the Cynic, bringing 
with it the belief in a self-centred and isolated self, 
never involved, like the later asceticism, the entire 
uprooting of all sexual desire. The wise man will 
marry for the sake of children, associating with the 
most comely .2 Antisthenes employed analogy from 
animal life, but it served only to point the cry of 
abandonment of cities and civilization, and return 
to the simple and primitive. The Cyrenaic no less 
is Koa/jLov iroXiTT)^, and equally an egotist ; but 
complete negation of social duties and actualization 
of despair was only possible when Greece had lost 
for ever the ideal of the city state. 

Sparta conceived the first system of practical 

1 " Krit. MuUer. Fr. Hist. Gk.," ii. 68. 

2 Diog., ii. 



Ancient Eugenics 

Eugenics; the first formulation in theory belongs to 
Plato. Archytas of Tarentum, Phaleas of Chalce- 
don, and Hippodamus, the Haussman of the Piraeus, 
may have anticipated the Platonic communism : the 
Platonic Eugenics is based on no Utopia, but on a 
living and successful community. The scheme of 
the Republic, though it owes a little to contemporary 
thought, something also to contemporary science, 
is most of all a speculative development of the 
Spartan system. In this respect one cannot speak 
of the Platonic Republic as the perfection of the 
laws of Lycurgus;^ nor can it be truly said that if 
Lycurgus had only put his scheme in writing, it 
would have appeared far more chimerical than the 
Platonic. 2 

On the negative side there is infanticide, and 
approval of the practice of destroying life in the 
germ. As in that other question of slavery, there 
are signs that Plato, from his speculative Pisgah, 
had glimpses of a higher humanity. But he suc- 
ceeded only in formulating an ineffectual compro- 
mise which retained the same evils under another 
name. Concealment of the newborn child ''in an 
unknown and mysterious hiding-place " is still 
infanticide. 

In an earlier passage copper may rise to silver, 
silver to gold, and the copper-child of golden parents 
may be degraded to its own class .^ This is a higher 
ideal than that of Aristotle, whose slave, the hope- 

^ Montesq., " Esprit des Lois," vii. i6. 
2 Rousseau, " i^mile," i. ^ " Rep.," 423. 

42 



Ancient Eugenics 

less product of heredity, can never shake himself free 
from the trammels of his birth. So to-day Eugenists 
have recognized that in the mass of men belonging to 
the superior class one finds a small number of men 
with inferior qualities, while in the mass of men 
forming the inferior classes one finds a certain 
number of men with superior characters. It is 
suggested that between these two exceptional cate- 
gories social exchanges should be made, allowing 
the best of the lower stratum to ascend, compelling 
the unadapted who are found above to descend to 
their own level. ^ 

But the Platonic dialogues, and on a higher scale 
the concise lecture notes of Aristotle, are not the 
mere exfoliation of a finished product of thought, 
but a gradual development. One idea devours 
another; there is thesis and antithesis, and the final 
synthesis, if achieved at all, is found at the end and 
not at the beginning. When Plato came to formu- 
late a positive scheme of Eugenics, his Spartan 
model seemed to show him that infanticide in some 
form was inevitable, when there was no knowledge 
to control the vagaries of nature. It was the ancient 
solution of the problem of heredity, and is still the 
solution of the breeder who " breeds a great many 
and kills a great many." So the issue of inferior 
parents and defective children bom of good stock 
are to be " hidden away." Concealment is the 

^ C/. Professor Niceforo, '* Causes of Mental and Physical 
Characters in Lower Classes." Paper read before Eugenics 
Congress. 

43 



Ancient Eugenics 

Platonic euphemism for infanticide. Men and 
women, past the proscribed age, are to do their best 
to prevent any offspring from seeing the light : if 
they fail, they are to dispose of their issue on the 
understanding that it is not to be reared.^ 

Plato's critics from the days of Aristotle have 
concerned themselves with the position of his third 
class, but in no long period of time this class would 
have suffered total extinction. Plato solved one 
problem to raise another. Like the primitive tribes, 
who, slaughtering every child that was born, were 
compelled to steal the children of their enemies, 
Plato, by eliminating the offspring of the lower class, 
would have forced his guardians to steal their men 
of copper from their foes. A community needs its 
lower classes, just as the body needs its humbler 
organs: subordinate to all, these men of copper are 
yet the most necessary of all. In his anxiety to 
breed a race of Eugenes, Plato removed the con- 
ditions which made their existence possible. While 
the children of the lower classes are to be eliminated 
at birth, nature would have eliminated the children 
of the upper classes. Plato's pens would have been 
as fatal as the creches of Paris or the Foundling 
Hospital of Dublin. 

Besides infanticide there are other methods for 
dealing with certain types of the unfit. The Platonic 
theory of medicine is a recurrence to the practice 
of the primitive savage, who, under pressure of want 
or war, abandoned the aged and infirm, and left 

1 " Rep.," 461C. 
44 



Ancient Eugenics 

them to die of exposure or starvation. Plato would 
leave the valetudinarian to die because he is inca- 
pacitated from fulfilling his appointed task, and will 
beget children in all probability as diseased as him- 
self if his miserable existence is protracted by the 
physician's skill. ^ 

Herodicus is useless both to himself and to the 
state, for chronic ill-health, as Socrates taught, reacts 
upon the mind. It is no part of the physician's task 
to " pamper a luxurious valetudinarianism " : the art 
of Asclepius is only for those who are suffering from 
a specific complaint. So the chronic invalid will be 
left to die, even if he be richer than Midas. 

There are two types whom Plato would condemn 
to natural elimination — the victims of constitu- 
tional ill-health, and the victims of self-indulgence .^ 
Refused medical aid, they are allowed to linger on, 
but there is no hint of segregation or custodial care 
to exclude them from parenthood. Under the later 
Eugenic scheme it is clear that the offspring of any 
such unions would have been ruthlessly exter- 
minated : there was no place in the Platonic Republic 
for the " unkempt " man, glorying in a pedigree of 
congenital ailment.^ To-day the limitations of our 
knowledge render restrictive measures possible only 
in the case of the feeble-minded. 

But apart from the physical degenerate, there is 
the moral degenerate, no mere encumbrance to 
society, but an active force for evil. No law of 

1 " Rep.," 407. 2 75/^.^ 408. 

3 Theophrastus, 19 (weol Aucrxeoc/as) . 

45 4 



Ancient Eugenics 

nature operates for his elimination; therefore, like 
the lower desires of the soul which cannot be tamed 
to service under the higher self, his growth must be 
stopped. Society has no course but to put him out 
of the way.^ The modern treatment of the morally 
incurable is humaner than the Platonic, yet lacking 
in humanity. We pity degeneracy when it takes 
the form of disease, but when it takes the form of 
immorality or crime we blame and we punish. The 
habitual criminal is no less a victim of heredity than 
the prisoner in Erewhon, " convicted of the great 
crime of labouring under pulmonary consumption." ^ 
Plato bases his constructive scheme on that 
analogy of the breeder which has formed the 
premisses, latent or confessed, for all Constructive 
Eugenics from the days of Lycurgus. " What very 
first-rate men our rulers ought to be," says Socrates, 
" if the analogy of animal holds good with regard to 
the human race I" Glaucon, accepting the analogy 
literally and without limitation, justifies the harshest 
strictures that have been levelled against any such 
conception of Eugenics.^ In the Platonic Republic, 
though not in Sparta, there is a race of supermen, 
the breeders of the human kingdom, arbitrarily 
interfering with natural instinct in order to produce 
a noble stock. Plato, recognizing that even in 
Greece there were limits set to the sphere of the 

^ "Rep.," 410a. 

2 Samuel Butler, " Erewhon," p. 72. Cf. Bateson, " Bio- 
logical Fact and Structure of Society," p. 19- 

3 " Rep.," 459. 

46 



Ancient Eugenics 

legislator, and unable to appeal to the cogency of 
assured knowledge to support his philosophic im- 
peratives, resorts instead to childish subterfuge, 
" an ingenious system of lots.'* 

But compulsion, or guidance, however veiled, is 
foredoomed to failure in the case of an institution 
which can only rest on inclination or an innate sense 
of duty. Moreover, " custom is lord of all," and 
custom can only be modified gradually and in the 
course of centuries : it is only the thinnest surface 
layer with which the legislator can tamper. No 
social reform or political progress can be effected by 
the arbitrary creation of institutions to which there 
are no answering ideas : external coercion with no 
correspondent reaction can achieve no permanent 
good. The basis of law is subjective. Modern 
Eugenists have recognized that, if there is to be 
Eugenics by Act of Parliament, the Eugenic ideal must 
first be absorbed into the conscience of the nation. 

The Spartan system of " compliances '* is devel- 
oped into a system of temporary marriages instead 
of the polygamy of the Germans. The best of both 
sexes are to be brought together as often as possible, 
and the worst as seldom as possible. Greater liberty 
is to be allowed to the brave warrior, but a liberty 
within restricted limits, and the concession is not 
for the sake of the individual, but for the good of 
the state. Plato is the slave of his analogy. 

As at Sparta, there is regulation of the marriage 
age, a commonplace of contemporary thought, and 
therefore an inevitable feature of any Eugenic 

47 



Ancient Eugenics 

system. The parents must be in their prime of life : 
this period is defined as twenty years in a woman, 
thirty in a man. A woman may bear children to 
the state till she is forty; a man beginning at twenty- 
five, when he has passed " the first sharp burst of 
life," may continue to beget children until he is 
fifty-five. For both in man and woman these years 
are the prime of physical as well as of intellectual 
vigour. In Sparta we hear of no definite regulation 
concerning those who have passed their prime, beyond 
exclusion from child-bearing. Plato's treatment of 
the problem is ** the only point in this part of the 
Republic which is in any sense immoral, and a point 
upon which modern ethics may well censure the 
highest Greek morals.'* ^ 

As to that second problem, the selection of 
qualities to breed in, Plato, like Sparta, chose 
physique, but chose it because he believed that soul 
depends on body, matter conditions mind. There 
is no fairer spectacle than that of a man who com- 
bines beauty of soul and beauty of form.^ Physical 
and intellectual vigour ripen simultaneously. Modem 
Eugenists no less hold it a legitimate working hypo- 
thesis that the vehicle of mental inheritance is at 
bottom material.^ There is a further requirement 
that parents should as far as possible be of similar 
nature. 

^ MahafEy, " History of Greek Literature," vol. ii., part i, 
200. 2 " Rep.," 402. 

8 Eugenics Review, July, 191 2; Cjrril Burt, " Inheritance 
of Mental Characters." 

48 



Ancient Eugenics 

There is no mention in the Republic of that care 
for the future mother which was a feature of the 
Spartan system. But there is a twofold scheme of 
education adapted for the development of other 
qualities than the merely physical, the first an 
iyKVK\lo<; iratheia diverging little from the cus- 
tomary education of the day, and then that second 
formulation which was to culminate in the knowledge 
of the good itself. Once he had shaken himself free 
from the military ideals of Sparta, Plato, concerned 
no longer to write a tract for the times, ends by 
building an ideal city where only gods or sons of 
gods could live. 

In this scheme of education it is recognized that 
environment no less than heredity plays a part in 
the development of the individual. The banks of 
the stream must be cleansed as well as its source. 
Good environment, koXtj ^oravn, is the keystone of 
the Platonic system; its essence is " nurture." The 
young citizen is like an animal at pasture; from the 
things all about him he assimilates good and evil, 
and what he gathers from his environment becomes 
embodied in his character. A gifted soul in vitiated 
surroundings is like a rare exotic sown in unfavour- 
able soil; gradually losing its true nature^ it sinks at 
last to the level of its surroundings. But after all 
"Nature is greatest." There are lower desires 
which no good influence can ever spiritualize. 
Education can only turn to the light the intrinsic 
capacities of the soul. 
The relative influence of these two factors has been 
49 



Ancient Eugenics 

expressed in much the same terms to-day. Men 
have a considerable capacity for being moulded by 
environment, no small susceptibility to the influences 
of education and early training. But these in- 
fluences operate in a circumscribed sphere. There 
is in the brain at birth a proclivity towards certain 
directions rather than others : to this original 
inherited capacity environment can add nothing : it 
can only develop or frustrate it. The Socialist who 
contends that all men should and might be made 
equal would find no friend in Plato any more than 
in modern Eugenists. 

Finally, there is the question of the regulation of 
the numbers of the state " to prevent it becoming 
too great or too small." ^ The Spartan problem 
was preservation of numbers; the problem of the 
Republic would have centred about this same aspect 
in an even greater degree. In a state where the 
best children were foundlings and the rest were 
eliminated at birth, the infantile death-rate would 
have more than counterbalanced any rise in the 
birth-rate. Moreover, among the adult population 
there are other factors working for elimination — 
" wars and diseases and any similar agencies." 
Military selection is essentially anti-eugenic: not 
only does it extinguish the best elements of the 
state, but it removes from the reproducing part 
of the population large numbers of the selected. 
Disease, though more the resultant of the crowded 
conditions following on modern urbanization, found 

1 *'Rep.," 423c. 
50 



Ancient Eugenics 

its hecatomb of victims even in ancient times. 
Plato, aware of the ruthless waste of life which 
attends on Nature's process of elimination, was 
blind to the tendencies of his own short-sighted 
scheme. 

Obsessed by the idea of the mean and a mystic 
doctrine of numbers, he would fix the number of 
the state at an unalterable 8,000. To attain this 
static equilibrium the guardians are to regulate the 
number of marriages.^ The elimination of the lower 
class by infanticide saved Plato from the needs of 
a Kpuirreia, but the alien is neither expelled nor 
encouraged; his existence is forgotten. There is 
little doubt that in no long period of time the 
Platonic guardians would have been faced with the 
grave problem of depopulation. 

It is recognized to-day that it should be the 
endeavour of social organization to secure the 
** optimum " number, and not the maximum num- 
ber. ** To spread a layer of human protoplasm of 
the greatest thickness over the earth — the implied 
ambition of many publicists — in the light of natural 
knowledge is seen to be reckless folly." 2 But there 
is a natural tendency which limits the numbers of 
the population to the energy-income of the earth. 
Among the intelligent classes of a civilized com- 
munity it is effected by control of reproduction; 
among the lower classes the same equilibrium is 

1 "Rep.," 460. 

2 Bateson, '* Biological Fact and Structure of Society," 
p. 21. 

51 



Ancient Eugenics 

brought about by a differential death-rate. The 
Platonic aim was justified biologically as well as 
from the economic point of view, but his methods 
were mistaken. 

Legislation would have failed in the Republic as 
it failed in Sparta and Imperial Rome. 

Selfish and parochial as the Spartan, the Platonic 
Eugenics is more an academic dream than a practical 
method of amelioration. Yet it was an essential 
step towards progress when Eugenics, divorced 
from militarism, found a place for the intellect of 
the philosopher King beside the physique of the 
warrior. 

From the Republic we pass to the " Politicus.** A 
work intended as a " metaphysical exercise in the 
art of differentiation " has merely a parenthetic 
concern with Eugenics. We find, however, a brief 
and fantastic adumbration of a constructive scheme. 

In the Republic selection was on the basis of 
physique and similarity of character; in the Politicus 
Plato's aim is the fusion of contrasted temperaments. 
Rightly recognizing that the law of sexual attraction 
is " like to like,"^ he would yet set himself in oppo- 
sition to the simple psychology of the lover. 

In the Protagoras Socrates had maintained that 
there was only one virtue; in the Politicus Plato 
asserts not only a partial opposition between dis- 
tinct virtues, but a similar opposition pervading art 
and nature. It is the royal art to weave a state of 

1 " Polit.," 310. Cf. Havelock Ellis, " Studies in Psy- 
chology of Sex," vol. iv. 

52 



Ancient Eugenics 

one texture out of the warp and woof of human 
society. Courage wed to courage through many 
generations culminates in insanity : the soul full of 
an excessive modesty mated to a similar soul becomes 
in the end useless and paralyzed. Therefore opposite 
must be wed to opposite, so as to effect a fusion of 
characters in the child. Content to lay down 
principles, Plato makes no mention of the means by 
which he would achieve his end. 

The Platonic hypothesis of fusion finds no verifica- 
tion in Mendelism. The most noticeable point in 
human inheritance is the frequency with which 
children resemble one parent to the apparent ex- 
clusion of the other. The phenomena of " coupling '* 
and " repulsion," of dominant and recessive char- 
acters, under the present limitations of our know- 
ledge, render impossible, even if desirable, any 
attempt to interlace the warp and woof of society 
more Platonico. The well-attested fact of dichotomy 
in human inheritance would effect the complete 
reversal of Plato's aim. 

From the fantastic laconism of the Republic and 
the visionary parenthesis of the Politicus we pass to 
the palinode of disillusioned senility, the Laws. Like 
Lear, Plato has brought up ungrateful children, and 
they have turned against him. An Athenian ideal 
supersedes the Spartan; he would show that his 
principles are perfectly consonant even with Athe- 
nian ideas; he would modify them till they came 
within the scope of practical action, building a 
" City of Cecrops " in place of his " City of God." 

53 



Ancient Eugenics 

Yet in the background there are still traces of his 
old ideal. As in the Politicus, the aim of marriage 
is to be the combination of opposites. " Children/* 
says Apuleius, " are to be conceived in the seed-bed 
of dissimilar manners." The headstrong must mate 
with the prudent, and the prudent with the head- 
strong, tempering their natures as wine is tempered 
by water.^ But not only is there to be a fusion of 
characters, there is to be a combination also of 
status and income : the rich must not marry the 
rich, nor the powerful the powerful. This triple 
basis of selection, with the infinite perplexities it 
involves, is the reductio ad absurdum of the Platonic 
thesis of fusion. 

Modern Eugenists, faced with the difficulties of 
selection, have attempted to infer the aptitude of 
individuals from their social and economic position. 

This would be a question of acting, so that 
marriages would be effected predominantly amongst 
the wealthy and prevented as far as possible among 
the poor.2 But Plato was not concerned with the 
relation between the economic and psychophysical 
elite, or with proving that the former were the 
product of the latter. On the contrary, obsessed 
by the idea of harmony, he would wed the rich to 
the poor, the poor to the rich. 

The Platonic conception of marriage implies an 
irrational universe. Personal inclination is to be 

1 " Laws," 773^^. 

2 Cf. Achille Loria, " Psychophysical and Economic 
Elite." Paper read before Eugenics Congress. 

54 



Ancient Eugenics 

sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. 
Nevertheless, Plato recognized the power of the 
" myriad voices " of opinion. *' In the case of 
marriages, births, and patrimonies he swerves from 
the rules laid down for the former commonwealth 
by making marriages an affair of individuals, and the 
business of the suitors themselves private."^ He 
realizes that legal compulsion in such matters would 
arouse anger and ridicule. Therefore, like modern 
Eugenists, he would trust to the power of public 
opinion. 

The state is to be monogamous, and, as in Sparta 
and the Republic, there is regulation of the marriage 
age. A woman is to marry between the ages of 
sixteen and twenty, a man not earlier than twenty- 
five ^ or thirty,^ and not later than thirty-five. The 
period of child-bearing is to last for ten years; at 
the end of that period, if there are no children and 
the parents are free from censure, honourable divorce 
is to be conceded. 

As at Sparta, there is to be care for the future 
child, set on a wider basis of science. There are 
times when incontinence, ill-health, moral delin- 
quency of any kind leave their impress upon the 
mind or body of the offspring. Parents must bear 
in mind that they are handing down the torch of 
life to future generations.^ 

Eugenics is being studied from the point of view 
of medical science. Already in the Republic Plato 

1 " Apul. Dogmata Platonis." 2 " Laws," 772^. 

3 Ihid.y 721a, 7856. * Ibid., yjth. 

55 



Ancient Eugenics 

had owed something to the teaching of Hippo- 
crates,^ and in this discussion of prenatal influences 
we may trace a further debt. " To form a child 
from birth to the best constitution, first of all care 
must be taken of the seed itself, then of food, drink, 
exercise, quiet, sleep, desires, and other things, all 
of which Plato has carefully studied." ^ 

The Modern Eugenist in such " dysgenic " in- 
fluences as alcoholism finds an explanation of the 
apparent anomalies of heredity. All forms of degra- 
dation, physical, intellectual, moral, fall upon the 
degenerates who are the offspring of such parents.^ 
But such a system of espionage as Plato proposes is 
entirely repugnant to modern ideas. For the first 
ten years of married life the parents are subject to 
continual supervision.^ Inquisitorial methods can 
only achieve negative results. 

The educational scheme of the Laws is a very 
different thing from that of the Republic. Pitched 
at a level which makes it possible for all, it leads to 
no final knowledge of the good. There are Public 
Infant Schools, but education is to cease after the 
age of six. Besides gymnastic and music, there is 
some training in the sciences, but the ideal is 
Pythagorean rather than Platonic. 

Modern Eugenists lay less stress on training, not 

^ Galen., p. 875 {Trepl larptK^s Kal yvfivaa-TiKTJi.) . 

2 Galen., " Hippoc. et Plat.," p. 465. 

3 Magnan and Filassier, " Alcoholism and Degeneracy." 
Paper read before Eugenics Congress. 

* "Laws," 7846. 

56 



Ancient Eugenics 

because their knowledge of heredity is greater, but 
because modern conditions curtail the opportunities 
of the educationist. The citizen of the Republic and 
the Laws had no need of " bread-studies." 

No less than in the Republic Plato recognizes 
that education by itself cannot achieve everything. 
Men well educated become good men : without gym- 
nastic and other education neither soul nor body 
will ever be of much account.^ But a fortunate ^ 
nature is as necessary as a good education, and 
those of the Athenians who become good men 
become good without constraint by their own 
natures. Only a few can achieve perfect happiness, 
and these are they who divine and temperate, and 
gifted with all other virtues by nature, have also 
received everything which good education could 
impart .2 

In addition to education and heredity, Plato, 
influenced, perhaps, by the treatise of Hippocrates, 
recognizes the influence of material environment. 
There is a difference in places, and some beget 
better men and others worse. Some places are 
subject to strange and fatal influences by reason of 
diverse winds and violent heats or the character 
of the waters. Again, there is the character of 
the food supplied by the earth, which not only 
affects the bodies of men for good or evil, but pro- 
duces the same result on their souls. But geo- 
graphic environment cannot produce a given type 
of mind any more than education: it can only 
1 "Laws," 641C, 766a. 2 ji)id.^ 6/{2d, gg2d. 

57 



Ancient Eugenics 

foster or thwart heredity. It merely determines 
what shall actually be by selective destruction of 
the incompatible. 

As to the negative aspect of this scheme, Plato 
would segregate the madman and expel the pauper. 
The madman is not to be seen in the city, but the 
responsibility rests upon the relatives, not upon 
the state. If they fail in their duty, the law will 
punish them. The treatment of the insane was a 
difficult problem in an age when there were no 
asylums. 

There is another problem, also, which has as- 
sumed far larger proportions to-day owing to the 
growth of humanitarian sentiment and the enor- 
mous numbers of the modern state. Plato has a 
simple and ruthless way with the pauper. In a 
properly constituted state the righteous man will 
not be allowed to starve : there is no excuse for the 
beggar. " If such a one be found, he shall be driven 
out of the market-place, out of the city, out of the 
land, that the state may be purged of such a crea- 
ture.^ When a city is small, there is no difficulty 
in maintaining the poor; such a prohibition might 
have been enforced without difficulty in an ancient 
state. We may approve of the simple thorough- 
ness of the Platonic method, but the complexity 
of modern conditions has rendered its adoption 
impossible. 

In the eyes of the Socialist unemployed and 
unemployable alike are the victims of the social 
1 "Laws," 936c. 
58 



Ancient Eugenics 

system: to the Eugenist, the chronic pauper is the 
victim of the germ-plasm — heredity. With in- 
creased knowledge to justify restrictions, the 
modern state may be purged of the pauper more 
slowly, but no less surely, than the Platonic state 
of the Laws. 

Plato, moreover, recognized bodily or mental de- 
fects as a bar to marriage, though not viewing the 
question from its Eugenic aspect. He is concerned 
with the parents, and not with the children. The 
law does not forbid marriage with an orphan who 
is suffering from some defect; it merely refrains 
from compulsion. Modern Eugenists, concerned 
with classifying such defects into transmissible and 
non-transmissible, regard the question from a dif- 
ferent view-point. In the matter of inspection to 
decide the fitness of age for marriage there is some- 
thing of the idea which came to life again in More's 
" Utopia " and Campanella's " City of the Sun."^ 

Finally, there is the question of the numbers of 
the population. It is no definitely Eugenic concep- 
tion that leads to the limitation of 5,040: there is 
a certain Malthusian element, and something of a 
prepossession with a mystical doctrine of numbers. 
" The means of regulation are many," but the 
means of the humaner Laws are not those of the 
Republic. In the case of an excessive population 
the fertile may be made to refrain, or, as a last 
resort, there is ** that old device," the colony. 
Faced with the opposite extreme, the rulers will 
1 "Laws," 925 e and b. 
59 



Ancient Eugenics 

resort to rewards, stigmas, and advice; but if 
disease or war bring devastation, no course lies 
open except to introduce citizens from without.^ 
Births and deaths must be registered, in order to 
make it possible to check the numbers of the popu- 
lation. There is no Kpyirrda, no ^evqXacia, no in- 
fanticide, though it seems that Plato would con- 
cede the practice of destroying life in the germ. 
It is only in the case of some such cataclysm as 
Plato anticipated that legislative interference with 
questions of quantity is justified. 

Even in this endeavour to sacrifice ideals to possi- 
bilities there is still the a-priorism of the visionary. 
There is more humanity, more concession to the 
infirmities of human nature, but little that comes 
within the scope of practical action. Neither the 
legislation of the Republic nor the precepts of the 
Laws could have ever realized the Platonic dream of 
Eugenics. 

From Plato we pass to Aristotle and the cul- 
minating period in the history of Ancient Eugenics. 
The Aristotelian scheme is almost entirely negative 
and restrictive. There is infanticide, but infanti- 
cide in its last phase, exposure of the imperfect and 
maimed, and, in the case of superfluous children, 
destruction of life in the germ. There is no 
fantastical scheme for the fusion of parental tem- 
perament, no rigid selection on the sole basis of 
physique. 

Like Plato, Aristotle believed in the intimate 

1 "Laws," 741. 
60 



Ancient Eugenics 

relationship between psychological phenomena and 
physical conditions.^ Body stands to soul in the 
relation of matter to form, potentiality to actu- 
ality; soul is the entelechy of the body.^ Body 
being prior chronologically to soul, demands atten- 
tion first, but only for the sake of the soul.^ 
Care, therefore, must be taken that the bodies of 
the children may answer the expectations of the 
legislator. 

There is no need for a man to possess the physique 
of a wrestler in order to be the father of healthy 
children; neither must he be a valetudinarian nor 
physically degenerate. There is a via media be- 
tween the extremes of specialized athleticism and 
physical incapacity, and it is this mean which is 
the desirable condition for both men and women. 
The valetudinarian who would have been left to 
die in the Republic may one day be eliminated by 
the humaner methods of Aristotle. There is much 
evidence to prove that physical weakness is a case 
of simple Mendelian transmission. 

As at Sparta and in the states of the Republic 
and Laws, there is limitation of the marriage age. 
Aristotle recommends the difference of twenty years 
between the ages of husband and wife, or, more 
accurately, the difference between thirty-seven and 
eighteen. Comparison with the marriage age de- 
fined in the Republic and Laws shows that ancient 

1 " De Anim.," 402&, 8. 

2 Ihid., ii. I, 412a, 28. 

61 s 



Ancient Eugenics 

thought had decreed no definite period. Four 
reasons incline Aristotle to select these ages. Since 
the procreative power of women stops at fifty, the 
harmony of the union will be preserved by insuring 
that husband and wife shall grow old at the same 
period of time. The disadvantages which attend 
too great nearness or distance in age between 
father and child are also avoided. More important 
than all, these ages, consulting the physical well- 
being of husband and wife, afford the best prospect 
of well-developed children. 

It is possible to approve of the postponement of 
marriage till eighteen, or even later; but the dis- 
parity of ages seems unnecessarily great. Aristotle, 
studying the results of early marriage in other 
cities, deplored its baneful effect on physique. 
Modern Eugenists point no less to the effect on the 
moral character of the offspring. 

Like Sparta and Plato, Aristotle forbade those 
past their prime to rear children to the state. 
Marriage is thus divided into two periods, and this 
first period is to last for seventeen years, not ten as 
in the Laws. Moreover, he would fix even the 
season for contracting marriage, and in conformity 
with Pythagoras and Greek custom generally, 
chooses Gamelion. To-day it is held that neither 
the vitality of the offspring, their physique, nor 
their intellectual capacity, show any clear correla- 
tion with the season of birth. " There is no 
atavistic heritage of a special season for reproduc- 
tion which the human race have originally shown 

62 



Ancient Eugenics 

analogous to what one finds to-day in many species 
of animals."^ " The married couple ought also to 
regard the precepts of physicians and naturalists." 
Aristotle, belonging to an Asclepiad family, received 
the partly medical education which was traditional 
in such families. Some of his encyclopaedic writings 
deal with medical subjects, and he is said to have 
practised medicine as an amateur. This is a further 
stage of the tendency which had begun with Plato's 
debt to Hippocrates. 

Care for the child is to begin before the cradle. 
And Aristotle insists, like the Spartan legislator, 
on the avoidance of sedentary occupation and the 
need for a proper dietary. But he is concerned 
not only with effect on physique, but also, like 
Plato, with effect on the mind. 

The first seven years of a child's life are to be 
spent at home, not in the creches of the Republic, 
nor in the public infant schools of Plato's Laws. 
This is to be a time of games, " mimicries of 
future earnest," under the charge of the inspectors 
of children, for Aristotle held with Plato that the 
majority of our likes and dislikes are formed in 
these early ages. Education is to run in cycles of 
seven years; the child is to be controlled at every 
period of its evolution. From the age of seven to 
puberty there are state-controlled gymnastics, but 
these gymnastics, unlike the Spartan, are merely a 
means to a further end — the training of reason from 

^ Gini, " Demographic Contributions to the Problems 
of Eugenics." Paper read before Eugenics Congress. 

63 



Ancient Eugenics 

puberty to the age of twenty-one. After this 
education ceases, and the young man brings body 
and mind, fully developed, to the service of the 
state. Aristotle's scheme is merely adumbrated: 
there are scattered suggestions rather than co- 
ordination, and the last stage of science, which 
is to cultivate the reason, is never mentioned 
at aU. 

Aristotle, like the Ancients generally, recognizes 
the importance of both environment and heredity. 
There are three stages in the formation of character, 
nature, custom, reason: innate potentiality, en- 
vironment, self-direction by the light of a principle. 
We are born good, we have goodness thrust upon 
us, we achieve goodness. Heredity to Aristotle ex- 
plains the slave just as certainly as it explains those 
who never will be slaves ; yet to admit emancipation 
for all slaves is to confess that there is no slave by 
nature without the potentialities of full manhood. 
It is true that some men from the beginning are 
fit only for that lower work on which the fabric 
of society must rest. The maintenance of hetero- 
geneity is an essential condition of progress: there 
must always be the minuti homines at the base of 
things, though we have long since passed from the 
permanent grades of Plato, Aristotle, and the 
Middle Ages. Plato, indeed, at one period seems 
to have conceded that the man from the copper 
class might rise to the silver or gold, and it is at 
this that social reform must aim, not to abolish 
class, but to provide that each individual shall, as 

^4 



Ancient Eugenics 

far as possible, reach his proper stratum and remain 
in it.i 

Like Plato, Aristotle recognizes that there are 
victims of heredity who can never be made good by 
education.2 But this factor of heredity is amenable 
to no certain control. Helen may boast of her im- 
mortal lineage, but those who think it reasonable 
that as a man begets a man and a beast a beast, 
so from a good man a good man should be descended, 
these fail to see that, though such is the desire of 
nature, her failures are frequent.^ Nature's aim 
is perfection, to make this the best of all possible 
worlds; but there are failures because matter is 
not always congruous with form.^ But ** Nature's 
defects are man's opportunities " : matter must 
therefore be helped as far as possible to the realiza- 
tion of its true form by the human agency of edu- 
cation. 

So much importance did Aristotle attach to 
education that, like Sparta, he would make it 
entirely an affair of the state. There is to be one 
educational authority and one sole system of 
education. 

The laws of Aristotle are as catholic as the laws 
of Alfred: ** the legislator must extend his views 
to everything.' ' ^ Therefore his Eugenic scheme will 
be enforced by law. His aim is to embody public 

^ Cf. Bateson, " Biological Fact and Structure of 
Society," p. 33. 2 "Pol.," 1316a. ^ Ihid.,i2$^h. 
* " De Gael.," 271a, 33; " Gen. An.," iv. 4, 7706, 16. 
6 »Pol.," 1333a. 

65 



Ancient Eugenics 

opinion in law, not to educate opinion to such a 
point that law will become unnecessary. 

" Every city is constituted of quantity and 
quality."^ Aristotle, therefore, no less than Plato, 
would fix an ideal limit to the population as well as 
regulate its quality. In the Aristotelian scheme, 
as in the Platonic, there emerges a certain Mal- 
thusian element; but it is a legal ordinance and not 
a natural law: it is to prevent population from in- 
terfering with the equalization of lots, not from out- 
running the limits of subsistence. He conceived 
that Plato's plan of unigeniture made it more than 
ever essential that there should not be too many 
sons in a household, and yet, in his view, the Pla- 
tonic means were insufficient. But there is also the 
conception of the mean, of an enclosing limit or 
7re/?a9, flowing naturally from the teleological 
method. Just as a boat can no more be two 
furlongs long than a span long, so a state can no 
more have 100,000 citizens than ten.2 Its essence 
lies in the fact that it can easily be comprehended 
as a whole. 

Yet, though Aristotle held the State to be a 
natural organism, he would not concede that 
hypertrophy was prevented by natural laws with- 
out the need for human co-operation. It is absurd 
to leave numbers to regulate themselves, according 
to the niunber of women who should happen to be 
childless, because this seems to occur in other cities.^ 
Rejecting as a mere palliative the remedy of coloni- 
1 1296&. 2 " Eth.," 9, 10, 3. 3 12656. 

66 



Ancient Eugenics 

zation, which Pheidon of Corinth had suggested, 
and Plato had kept in the background of the Laws, 
he insisted that a limit must be set to the procrea- 
tion of children, even during a seventeen years* 
term. When infractions occurred — and one would 
imagine that under such circumstances they would 
be of frequent occurrence — ^there is not to be ex- 
posure, which is impious on the ground of super- 
fluity, but destruction of life in the germ. 

To-day limitation of numbers among the upper 
classes of the community is being brought about 
naturally by the increase of foresight and self- 
control. It is the lower classes whose reckless 
propagation constitutes the problem of Modern 
Eugenics. Aristotle, denying these classes the 
rights of citizenship, and treating them politically 
as cyphers, sets them outside his scheme of social 
reform. The number of slaves, resident aliens, and 
foreigners, is to be left to chance, *' and it is per- 
haps necessary that their numbers should be large.** 

The Aristotelian Eugenics, therefore, are as 
selfish and parochial as the Spartan. As in the 
animal body, the homogeneous are for the sake of 
the heterogeneous.^ Where Eugenics is most neces- 
sary. Eugenics is denied; the man who performs 
a task which ruins his body or his mind is set beyond 
the pale as a mere living instrument. This was the 
simple pre-humanitarian solution of a difficult 
problem. But Aristotle recognized, as Eugenists 
recognize to-day, that any scheme of constructive 

1 Arist., " Part. An.," ii. i. 
67 



Ancient Eugenics 

Eugenics must be set aside as visionary and im- 
practicable,^ so slender is our knowledge of the 
genetic processes of man. Aristotle, finding a scape- 
goat in a mythological nature, abandoned the prob- 
lem as insoluble: to-day we are still seeking some 
outline of an analysis of human characters. 

The chief interest of the Aristotelian Eugenics 
lies in the fact that he set out to construct a scheme 
which should be practicable for Athens, no academic 
speculation in the clouds, but a possible plan of 
social reform. " The legislator must bear two 
things in mind — what is possible and what is proper. 
It is not enough to perceive what is best without 
being able to put it in practice. "^ Hence careful 
attention is paid to popular opinion and existing 
custom. The consensus mundi, the collective capa- 
city of the many, are factors the importance of 
which he constantly emphasizes. This " divine 
right of things as they are," involving a certain 
conservatism, led him to uphold any custom re- 
vealing after analysis a balance of good in its 
favour. Hence the acceptance of infanticide and 
slavery, and regulation of the marriage age. The 
doctrine of the mean also, which helped to decide 
the proper disposition of parents and to fix the 
number of the state, was an essential article of 
received opinion. If Athens had ever instituted a 
Eugenic system, it would have been the system of 
Aristotle, not of Sparta or Plato. 

^ Bateson, " Biological Fact and Structure of Society," 
p. 12. 2 1289a. 

68 



Ancient Eugenics 

Aristotle, applying the idea of development to 
knowledge as well as to the objects of knowledge, 
not only conceived his own theories as a develop- 
ment of those of his predecessors, but imagined 
himself as standing at the culmination of Greek 
thought. This eschatology was justified. The 
Politics not only set the final seal upon political 
science in Greece, it marks also the last word in 
Eugenics. 

Looking back upon these past systems, we find 
that the task was easier for a pre-Christian age 
which could sacrifice the lower classes in the in- 
terests of the higher and solve the problems of 
heredity by infanticide. Even when the influence 
of Sparta had died away and Eugenics was regarded 
no longer as a mere ancillary to war, parochialism 
confined it to a single state, inhumanity to a single 
class. The features which are so prominent in 
all these early schemes — precise limitation of the 
marriage age and detailed schemes of education — 
are features which, though still recognized, no 
longer have their place in the foreground of modern 
thought. 

The Greeks were concerned more with the banks 
of the stream; the modern aim is to control its 
source. The gradual process of social reform 
during the first three quarters of the nineteenth cen- 
tury has gradually brought us farther back in the 
course of successive stages. From measures of 
sanitation and factory laws we have passed to 
national schemes of education. A gradual extension 

69 



Ancient Eugenics 

of aim has led to efforts to guard the child at birth, 
even before birth; and, finally, Eugenics has set 
itself to solve the problems of heredity. The 
*' Life-History Albums " of Galton would trace the 
workings of the ancestral curse, the Ate of inherited 
disease as well as of inherited sin : Mendelism would 
render possible a factorial analysis of the individual. 
Nevertheless, though the Greeks abandoned the 
question of heredity in despair, and, unable to 
prevent its victims being born, slew them if pos- 
sible at birth, they realized many of the problems 
which, 2,000 years later, are still confronting 
Eugenists, and they realized in part the remedies. 
It is wrong to say that antiquity never raised the 
question as to whether a hereditary disease or pre- 
disposition to disease should be a bar to marriage. 
The Spartans, Plato, Aristotle, all realized the 
problem, Plato returning to atavism for his remedy, 
Aristotle conceiving the humaner methods of 
Modern Eugenists. Sparta and Plato, too, were not 
blind to the need, to-day so urgent, of restrictive 
measures dealing with the insane, and Plato even 
dreamt of segregation. There is the recognition, 
also, that Eugenics is the sphere of the physician 
as well as of the philosopher; that quantity is a 
factor in the problem as well as quality; that 
selective Eugenics must regard the psychical as 
well as the physical. But even that final formu- 
lation in the pages of Aristotle, which would have 
been possible to the age, and more possible to-day 
than the narrow scheme of Sparta or the unsub- 

70 



Ancient Eugenics 

stantial visions of Plato, even these saner Eugenics 
have in them much that is impossible, no little that 
is abhorrent, to thinkers of to-day. But the idea 
had been given life and brought to bear. Long 
after the sowers had passed away it sprang to re- 
newed existence in a different age and in a different 
form, engendered by new conditions. 

After Aristotle stretches a gulf of years in which 
Eugenics lies amid the lumber 6i forgotten theory. 
The state education of the fourth century may have 
owed something to Plato and Aristotle, but there 
is no state control of marriage. Zeno and Chry- 
sippus, influenced, perhaps, by a perverted Pla- 
tonism, advocated community of wives. But Zeno 
taught that the intelligent man should avoid all 
public affairs except in a state approaching per- 
fection; and Chrysippus, writing a treatise on the 
education of childhood, is reproached by Posei- 
donius for neglecting its first and most important 
stages, especially those before birth. " Poseidonius 
blames Chrysippus and admires what Plato taught 
about the formation of children while yet un- 
born." 1 

No attempt was ever made to realize the ideals 
of the Republic " except by dreamers and som- 
nambulists at second-hand in an age of mysticism 
and social degeneration." Plotinus obtained from 
the Emperor Gallienus and his wife the concession 
of a ruined city in Campania, which had once been 
founded by philosophers. He proposed to restore 
1 Galen., " Hipp, et Plat.," v. i., p. 465. 
71 



Ancient Eugenics 

it, name it Platonopolis, and adopt the laws of 
Plato.^ This early anticipation of the Oneida 
Community never seems to have been realized. 

In the " Utopia " of Sir Thomas More the mar- 
riage preliminaries, suggesting something of Plato's 
physical point of view, recall a passage in the 
Laws. But in Campanella's " City of the Sun " 
we find a closer approximation to the Platonic 
Eugenics. Marriage, recognized as an affair of the 
state rather than of the individual, because the 
interests of future generations are involved, is only 
to be performed in the light of scientific knowledge. 
The " great master," who is a physician, aided by 
the chief matrons, is to supervise marriage, which 
will be confined to the valorous and high-spirited. 
There is to be a system of state education, and the 
women are trained for the most part like men in 
warlike and other exercises. Campanella has been 
called the prophet of Modern Eugenics: he is the 
connecting-link between the crude Eugenics of the 
past and the scientific Eugenics of Galton. 

There is one brief attempt at practical Eugenics, 
the Oneida Community of Noyes, which, out- 
running scientific knowledge and the ideas of the 
day, raised the bitter antagonism of a public not yet 
fitted to receive it. Two thousand years after 
Aristotle Galton formulated the first scientific 
scheme of Eugenics. 

This sudden arrest of the developing Eugenic 
ideal after Aristotle is not difficult of explanation. 

^ Porphyry, "Plotinus," c. 12. 
72 



Ancient Eugenics 

Realizing only vaguely the difficulties with which 
modern science has encompassed the problem, the 
Ancients might have been expected to have 
cherished the ideal till actual experiment revealed 
these incommensurable factors. With their con- 
ception of the state as an etre moral collectif, with 
their recognition of law as the sum of the spiritual 
limits of the people, with the favourable support 
of the consensus mundi, which Aristotle never 
opposed, everything seemed opportune for its 
realization. 

But just as a good man is crushed by a bad en- 
vironment, so a social theory must wither in an un- 
responsive age. Eugenics is dependent upon the 
ethical perspective; the philosophy of egotism — le 
culte de soi-meme — finds no appeal in a theory 
which looks beyond the pleasure of the individual 
to the interests of the future race. 

From Socrates to Aristotle philosophy has striven 
to stem the current of political dissolution, and in 
philosophy we see an insurgent pessimism, an ever- 
growing prominence assigned to the theoretic life. 
The supremacy of Macedon signalized the final 
breakdown of Greek civilization. Aristotle, stand- 
ing on the border-line, found in classic antiquity 
an influence sufficiently strong to place the com- 
munity in the foreground as compared with the 
individual. 

After Aristotle, the tendency which had already 
been at work among the philosophers of the Academy 
and the Peripatetics completely reversed the posi- 

73 



Ancient Eugenics 

tion. Turning aside from the ideal of man as an 
organic member of society, philosophy concerned 
itself instead with the satisfaction of the ideas of 
the individual. 

In place of their old dead principles men required 
new guides: they sought and found in two direc- 
tions — in Orientalism and philosophy. From Ori- 
entalism they learnt to profess complete detachment 
from an ephemeral world of sordid corporeal change, 
to contemn women and offspring, to throw aside 
costume, cleanliness, and all the customary de- 
cencies of life: Karma will soon be exhausted. 
Nirvana attained. No theory of racial regeneration 
can flourish in such an atmosphere of inconsequent 
egotism. 

Epicureanism, with its watchword of " seclusion,'* 
teaching its disciples to forego marriage and the rear- 
ing of children, can have had no place for Eugenics. 
Equally opposed is the tendency of Stoicism, which 
" draws such a sharp distinction between what is 
without and what is within that it regards the latter 
as alone essential, the former as altogether in- 
different, which attaches no value to anything 
except virtuous intention, and places the highest 
value in being independent of everything." ^ 

Such a system is not likely to concern itself with 
the interests of a state in which the mass of men 
are fools, and denied every healthy endeavour. It 
is true that besides this tendency toward individual 
independence there was a logical development of 
1 Zeller, " Stoics and Epicureans," p. 310. 
74 



Ancient Eugenics 

Stoicism which recognized that man, to obtain his 
freedom, must live, not for himself, but for society. ^ 
But it was the earlier end that continued to pre- 
dominate, bringing Stoicism nearer and nearer to 
the selfish egotism of Epicurus. It is only in a 
community of wise ones that a man will marry or 
beget children. 2 A generation imbued with such 
philosophies would have as little thought of racial 
improvement as an age which found its guidance 
in the teachings of Schopenhauer and Hartmann. 

Moreover, cosmopolitanism, consequent on the 
dissolution of the city state, not only brought indi- 
vidualism in its train, but let loose the inveterate 
pessimism of the Ancients. So long as the city state 
existed, the Greeks, forgetful of the Golden Age in 
the past and the inevitable cataclysm in the future, 
concerned themselves with the future progress of a 
limited race. But pessimism, linked with indi- 
vidualism, became a living force in a despairing 
age, which had never developed the evolutionary 
conceptions of Anaximander. Men of after genera- 
tions will be just as foolish and unthinking, and 
just as short-lived. Neither the future nor the 
past matters, but only the present.^ Sooner or later 
all things will be transmuted again into the fiery 
substance from which they came. Individualism 
and belief in inevitable decadence were the two 

^ Cic, "Fin.,"iii. 19, 64; Sen., "Ep.,"95, 52 ("membra 
sumus corporis magni"). 

2 Epict., " Diss.," iii. 27, 67. 

3 "M. A. Disc," 112. 

75 



Ancient Eugenics 

influences which effectually thwarted the growth of 
Ancient Eugenics. 

But this philosophy of Weltschmerz is an aban- 
doned creed. Le temps de tristesses dogmatiques est 
passe. Organic evolution has changed our whole 
perspective. We see our wills as temporary mani- 
festations of a greater Will : our sense of time and 
causation has opened out to the infinite, and we are 
learning to subordinate the individual lot to the 
specific destiny. 

So Eugenics, ruthlessly practised in those distant 
ages, *' when wild in wood the noble savage ran," 
rudely systematized, passed into the constitution 
of Sparta. The selfish creed of a warrior caste, 
even in the hands of Plato and Aristotle it never 
lost its parochialism, and when this narrow spirit 
gave way before the cosmopolitanism of subsequent 
philosophy, individualism, isolating human effort 
from a world rational only to the evolutionist, 
effectually checked the growth of the Eugenic ideal 
for centuries. 



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